For centuries people around the world have been celebrating the annual harvest having spent months toiling the land growing their crops. Though the meaning of it has skewed slightly over recent years for many of us with the arrival of convenience foods, the festival itself is thankfully alive and well, and no more so than in Waterford city where they are celebrating FOOD!
Between the 10th to 16th September the Waterford Harvest Festival has been offering anyone with a love of food and drink the opportunity to sample local produce and I was very lucky this week to have been given the opportunity to spend a couple of days getting a taster of what they have to offer.
There’s so much in the packed programme I’ll be covering (a fraction of it) in a couple of blog posts as the organisers of this annual event have put together an impressive range of activities. From Viking banquets to exhibitions, delicious dinners and a bronze age Fulacht Fia, the week culminates in a food village on the Sunday that spans the length of the quay. Not forgetting either that the GIY Gathering is also taking place and I’ll be back there for the community garden network workshop and talk which I’ll fill you in on too. For now I’ll share a taster of what you might experience if you take a slow food tour. Each daily tour has been different and often combined with a food producing garden visit too.
First up, what’s a Slow Food Tour?
Throughout the week Dennis has been safely driving groups of 8 to 15 people around in a minibus to different food and drink producers and gardens around the city with the very knowledgeable Donal acting as guide. Over forty business were earmarked for these tours and many have now welcomed visitors into their premises for mini tours, demonstrations and tasters, with business owners sharing their stories and most importantly their passion for what they do.
The only coffee roasting house in the South East, Mark Bergin’s family business imports only green beans and roasts them on site. I’m not a massive coffee drinker and have never thought about how the beans turn from a seed to an aromatic drink but Mark expertly explained this fascinating process. The Coffee Warehouse supplies many local hotels and restaurants and I was particularly impressed to learn that they are able to talk to buyers about mixing blends tailored to suit them. We arrived at the warehouse to aromas I wish I could bottle and left with a kilo bag that we’d seen roasted, cooled and packed! What a great start to the day.
Here’s where I own up to never having eaten sushi – the thought of raw fish has always put me off. Until now that is. Tetyani welcomed us into her unit, explained how she started her business, how she learnt her trade, taught us how to cook the rice, prepare the fish and vegetables then roll and wrap the seaweed. The group then had a go… if anyone remembers Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game back in the ’80s that was us! Afterwards we were able to taste the sushi we’d made, but more importantly the delicious offerings from Tetyani. If you’ve always been nervous about trying sushi, this is the way to try it. Seeing it prepared, listening to the traditions surrounding it certainly helps to dispel any fears. Oh and if you do eat it and pick up a hint of the very hot wasabi, bare in mind that 1kg of the hot green stuff costs a staggering €300!
I wont deny this was a tour we were all looking forward to and we weren’t disappointed. Grainne and Tim showed us around their small independent brewery, explained malts, tasted grains and talked about techniques. At present their ales can only be found in kegs at various festivals and pubs which was a big disappointment after we tasted the delicious Alternator (a golden wheat beer) and the stronger tasting Pale Ale! It’s early days for Metalman so first things first but they have plans to start bottling so keep an eye out!
Not a food tour but included in our trips was a visit to The Kite Design Centre which houses several Waterford based artists from glass to silver to print and fashion. It’s open six days a week and you can watch the artists work, chat to them, order pieces or commission work from them. These guys have been fully supported by the council and Enterprise Board and it’s great to see that although they are seperate businesses in themselves, they also collaborate. The silversmith and printer produce pieces that compliment each other and are sold together – a necklace with a fish pendent would be accompanied with a handmade and framed print of a fish for instance. The price ranges start low and head upwards making the artists products available to all. This is a studio well worth popping in to.
Waterford is home of the famous Blaa and our tour of a bakery that specialises in this particular type of bap or bun began at M & D Bakery where we were able to see Blaas being mixed, rolled, flattened and baked. Unlike our group at 8.30 in the morning, Michael and Dermot were wide awake, welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic. Their day starts much earlier as deliveries to local shops have to be out of the door by 5am each morning. Here the guys explained the whole bread making process then fried up some bacon and buttered some blaas so we could enjoy the total experience. We went away with a pack of buns and bread and a recipe so that we can attempt to make the delicious blaas ourselves!
Costing just €14 a head for a three hour tour I can’t recommend this experience enough though sadly they are only currently available during the festival week (which is now almost over) so you’ll have to wait until next year unless someone picks up the gauntlet and starts them up sooner! However, if you wish to take a tour of the invididual businesses you can contact them directly as they will gladly oblige.
Many of the small business springing up and operating in Waterford have been actively supported and encouraged by the local Enterprise Board and many other agencies and organisations who are working hard to encourage employment back into the city. In 2006 Waterford was listed as having a population of 49,000 people – just three years later 12,000 men and women were told they would no longer have jobs when the Waterford Crystal factory closed its doors. I can only begin to imagine the impact that news would have had on the families and communities surrounding it. This city needs all the help it can get not only from the agencies but also from those of us who visit it.
Many aspects of my stay in this historic city inspired me with the people we met being top of the list. They’re not giving up or giving in, they’re coming back fighting for their communities and are so very full of passion for what they do – be it hoteliers, artists, food producers, historians or council employees, they are giving it their all.
Where to stay & what to do…
If the snippets have tempted you to visit Waterford and sample some of the food and drink that’s produced locally, I’d highly recommend Dooleys Hotel located on the Quays as a place to stay. They offer large, clean, comfortable rooms with a hot, well cooked breakfast …
… and I’d encourage you to take one of the new “Telling Tales” tours of the museum, Reginalds Tower and the Bishops Palace where real life characters bring history to life and would almost have you believe you’ve entered a time machine and landed in the early 1800s! The tours run hourly and cost €5.00 for adults (€4 concessions) with accompanied children U-14 free – money well spent. Advance booking is not required but take a look at the website for more details.
So would you be tempted by a food tour and can you see the benefit of them? If more local people took them and not just the tourists I can’t help but think how much more proud they would be of the people they share their communities with and would perhaps be more likely to shop and buy locally and support them. They might also feel inspired to give a business idea that’s been nagging away at the back of their minds a go too…