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local food

Food & Drink, Green

5 reasons why we should eat ‘in season’ (& eat rhubarb cake too)

April 17, 2014

Rhubarb PatchWe often hear the term ‘in season’ bandied about but I was asked recently why it was so important when food is readily available all year round – a good question in the age of convenience. The following post therefore gives five reasons why we should be thinking more carefully about the foods we buy and cook throughout the year. It’s followed by a few suggestions for rhubarb recipes as well as a very seasonal rhubarb crumble cake that I discovered this week after we found ourselves with a glut of duck eggs and ‘in season’ rhubarb stalks.

Rhubarb Crumble Cake CrumbsNumber 1. In season food that’s been freshly harvested has more nutrients and flavour than food that’s travelled hundreds of miles and/or has been stored before it reaches you.

After we pick fruit and vegetables they continue to breathe (known as respiration) which breaks down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Warm air can speed this process up, as in the case of apples for instance. For the commercial market apples are generally stored at cold temperatures for long periods of time (for a year or more in some cases), with low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide added to them. After a few months under these conditions, their nutrient levels begin to diminish.  Even without long-term storage, it might take a week or two between a fruit or vegetable being picked, to when it’s delivered to the shop we buy it from. It may then be another week before we eat it.

When we buy ‘in season’ and locally, the food is generally sold within 48 hours of being picked and we’re more likely to use it quickly, perhaps excited and mindful that it’s so fresh.

Number 2. Buying seasonal food usually means we’re supporting local producers, farmers, farmers markets, CSAs and co-ops which is great for local economies. I wrote a post recently about the various schemes and projects we can support here if you’d like to find out more about them.

Number 3. Buying seasonal food means it’s usually cheaper. Buying a punnet of strawberries in June should be much cheaper than buying a punnet at Christmas. If it’s not, we should ask ourselves (or the shopkeeper) why not. Are the farmers getting a good deal?

winter squashNumber 4. Some societies believe that ‘in season’ food provides nutrients and ingredients that our bodies crave or need at certain times of the year. Somehow juicy soft fruits such as red currents and raspberries seem much more appealing when the sun is warm on our skins than in the cold winter months. Likewise we enjoy eating warming vegetable stews and soups loaded with root vegetables, pulses and winter squashes in the autumn months when we’re tucked up in front of cozy fires.

Number 5. Eating in season is good for the environment. At a time when climate change and fossil fuels are uppermost in many of our minds thanks to the recent IPCC report, there are less air and road miles used when we shop for and eat ‘in season’ local produce.

Buying more local and ‘in season’ produce doesn’t mean that we have to give up buying imported produce altogether, but that we become more aware of what’s growing or on offer at any particular time and choose it as often as we can over imported fruit and vegetables.

rhubarb plantsRhubarb Recipes

As a result of a sudden rhubarb glut in the Greenside Up household, I learnt this week that if we don’t have time to cook it all, it freezes very well. Just wash, trim and cut the stalks into 25mm pieces then blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 mins. Drain them, dry them then pack them into containers on their own. They can then be used for stewed fruits, pies and cakes when you have more time.

However, it seemed a shame to be in possession of so much rhubarb and not make something with it! I therefore chose this particular rhubarb crumble cake recipe because it uses lots of eggs and now that our duck is laying, we have an abundance.

Not used to baking with duck eggs, I googled and found that we can just straight-swap duck eggs with hen eggs. So I did. The resulting cake was light, fluffy and went down a treat but it did take longer to bake than the original Good Food recipe suggested, probably as a result of the slightly larger duck eggs.

Ducky & Bob, best pals since the fox attack

Ducky & Bob, best pals since the fox attack

If you’re searching for other rhubarb recipes, I’ve one here that the lovely Mona Wise published in her newspaper column last year for rhubarb cheesecake and another from Sarah of Cake in the Country for rhubarb lemonade that’s very refreshing at this time of year. There are instructions on the latter post too for growing and caring for rhubarb if you have any questions about it.

duck eggsRecipe for Rhubarb Crumble Cake

250g butter
250g caster sugar plus 1 tbsp
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs (I used duck)
300g plain flour, plus 7 tbsp
2 tsp baking powder
300g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and sliced thinly
Preheat the over to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3 and grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin.

Please note that since my old food mixer broke, I’ve been using a food processor for all my mixing and baking… 

Put the butter, 250g sugar and vanilla into a food processor and mix until the mixture is combined, light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time (I always break them into a cup first to check they’re fresh), and mix together before tipping the mixture into a large bowl. You wont need to do this if you use a food mixer. Sieve in the flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture.

For the crumble topping, remove about 85g of the mixture with a spoon and put onto a plate then stir in the extra 7 tablespoons of flour mentioned in the ingredients list. Use a knife and fork to mix and chop this up until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the chopped rhubarb into the large bowl of flour and eggs and fold in until combined. Empty the mixture into the prepared cake tin and sprinkle the crumble topping over the top before finally sprinkling the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top.

Place the tin onto the middle shelf of the oven for 1 hr 35 mins if using duck eggs (the Good Food recipe recommends 1 hr 15 mins for hen eggs). If the cake begins to brown or burn but is still runny in the middle when checked with a skewer, cover the top with a piece of tin foil.

When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a while before turning out of the tin and cooling fully on a wire cooling rack.

rhubarb crumble cake

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

I’ve plans to make a rhubarb and honey compote this weekend with honey from a neighbours hives, making it a truly homegrown dessert. Do you have any favourite rhubarb recipes? What are your thoughts on ‘in season’ shopping? Do you think we’ve forgotten what ‘in season’ really means?


Food Security – Eight Things You Can Do Help

October 15, 2013
Image courtesy:

Image courtesy:

Wednesday, 16th October – World Food Day 2013

World this day and World that day seem to be appearing in my news stream a lot recently and as a result I was wondering who makes them up. Who decides for instance that World Egg Day will take place on the second Friday of October or that World Toilet Day might happen on the 19th November? As it happens, various people are responsible but in the case of World Food Day, an international event taking place on 16th October, it was from the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, (FAO).

Just the phrase World Food Day resulted in my blogging antenna honing in. One of the topics that came up with some gardeners over the summer was that of Food Security. Several didn’t understand the term immediately and I had to explain it in more detail, but then I guess it’s a phrase that doesn’t comes up in general conversation too often.

It should.

The World Health Organisation defines Food Security as

WHO.jpgToday there are several nations that can’t offer their populations the security of a daily feed, with millions of humans chronically undernourished worldwide. The challenge for those of us in the developed world as the global population grows is whether we can continue to feed our own and at the same time address the issues surrounding those that can’t. Continue Reading…

Community Gardens

Grow Your Own. It’s not just about growing veg…

October 2, 2013

Grow Your OwnEveryone tells you its good to grow your own fruit and veg. You’ll get fit, it’s great for the mind, you know where your food comes from, you learn the seasons, it’s organic! You’re at one with nature and you’ll shop locally – the list can go on but is that it, can we do more for ourselves in our quest to lead more sustainable lives than just head outside and sow a few seeds?

Callan Community GardenWell we’re about to find out in Kilkenny…

Thanks to the KLP community garden initiative, two gardens I’ve been working with are now learning what’s involved with small business enterprise.

Continue Reading…


Pigs – Do You Think They Know?

September 25, 2013

pigcloseup“Do you think the pigs know they’re going for slaughter?”

It’s a question several people have asked me since our young pigs were delivered. With the wisdom of those who know everything, others have casually mentioned:

“they know what’s in store for them you know”

Well how can they know, unless pigs can read our minds?? How can they possibly know that they won’t be living long, happy lives routing around in our little copse, but instead will be taken on a hair-raising journey in the back of a bumpy trailer, before being dispatched to pig heaven in the next day or so (or to be more precise, our freezer).

Saddleback pigs in April

Saddleback pigs in April

After our cute little saddleback piglets arrived here ready to roam outside back in April I thought I’d be writing several posts sharing tales of their escapades and antics. I hadn’t expected that being a Pig Herder (my official Department of Agriculture name) would be so uneventful!

Saddleback PigsOver the years we’ve cared for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, chickens, dogs, cats, ducks, pet rats, kittens and horses but I can honestly say of all of those, our pigs have been the easiest to mind. They’ve been such good-natured, amusing animals, they’ve been a pleasure to look after.

Continue Reading…


Could Urban Agriculture Ensure Our Survival?

September 20, 2013

Is Urban Agriculture the answer?

Urban Farming

Photo Credit:

‘Urban agriculture’ is a phrase we’re hearing a lot recently, alongside ‘Community Assisted Agriculture’ and ‘Food Security’, but have you ever thought about what they mean?

As a rural dweller I can’t say I’d spent too much time thinking about urban agriculture in particular, so attending a recent Urban Agriculture conference at NUI Maynouth was quite an eye opener.

When Professor Yokohari took to the stage and began to share stories about the disasters his country has suffered throughout the centuries, including earthquakes, fires and tsunamis, some of which have razed Japanese cities to the ground, all of a sudden urban agriculture begins to make complete sense.

Urban Agriculture in Tokyo

Photo Credit:

Natural climate disasters of that magnitude aren’t anything we’ve had to contend with on our little island. We don’t live on land that’s perched on top of earthquake hotspots, mountains prone to landslides or volcanic eruptions that spew lava and ash for miles around. We’ve therefore never had to think much about what we’d do if we were suddenly without an infrastructure. Over the centuries we’ve got off lightly and I consider myself very lucky to be living where I do.

Urban Agriculture in Japan

Photo Credit:

However, with the temperatures on the planet warming and climate change stirring up the global pot, not only are weather patterns already changing, there’s talk of sea levels rising more significantly than we first thought.

I recently read that if the Western Atlantic ice sheet collapses faster than was first predicted, sea levels may rise by as much as seven metres within the next 100 years (when many of us would expect to have grandchildren alive). That’s an unprecedented amount of flooding for our future generations to cope with and as a parent, a scenario I’d rather not think about. We can’t ignore the fact that the climate is changing, that more extreme weather events are occurring, that the ice sheets and glaciers are melting faster than we’d like and that unless scientists have got their predictions way, way off the mark, they’re going to continue to do so.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

When the cold winter of 2010/11 hit Ireland, in less than a week supermarket shelves were looking bare as planes were unable to land on runways and roads were closed, leaving lorry loads of groceries unable to reach out-of-town stores. Thankfully the cold snap didn’t last long but imagine for a minute if it had….

How would we cope if suddenly all the roads and rail lines coming out of Dublin were gone? Just one large natural or man made disaster could leave us without our basic provisions within a very short period of time. 75% of Ireland’s glasshouse crops and 50% of our national vegetable output are grown in Fingal, North Dublin – that would leave many communities around the country hungry if the food was unable to be transported to them.

Urban Agriculture

Photo Credit:


It alarms me that we’re so unprepared to fend for ourselves, that we live such unsustainable lives, but then we’ve never had to behave any differently.


So what is urban agriculture and what can we learn from the Japanese?

In Tokyo 1.5% of agriculture still exists within the city. In areas that we normally associate with finance and retail, business and inner city living there are 6,500 farming households, each farming on average just 0.14 ha. Rice and brassica fields are planted between skyscrapers and rooftop allotments have long waiting lists. But these aren’t just unpaid hobby farmers, many charge for their produce and are now known as semi professional farmers; a large percentage of them are over the age of retirement. Professor Yokohari’s research shows that urban hobby farmers are producing 9.1kg/m2/year whilst professional farmers harvest 6.2 kg/m2/year – they’re not figures to be dismissed lightly.

Most western town and city planners don’t allow for crops to be grown within their confines. In the densely populated cities of Japan however, food crops are sprouting in fertile land all around. People are not only earning a living farming in their cities, they also know that if disaster strikes elsewhere in their country, they can fend for themselves until infrastructures are repaired – they are unlikely to go hungry.

Community Orchard

Photo Credit:

Back home in Ireland

Given that grow your own, allotments and community gardening are still a hobby for the minorities, we can’t expect miracles but we can do something that will begin to introduce communities to more sustainable ways of thinking.

Instead of walking past an overgrown eyesore, imagine popping into a community orchard and picking your own apples, pears or plums off the trees.

Creating a community orchard would be a simple step in sustainability and in all likelihood would attract grants or donations as well as volunteers to help plant the trees. If every household in a neighbourhood committed to buying and planting just one tree, the size of the orchard would only be limited by space.

It’s not a new idea, urban orchards have been planted in several cities, but it works. Okay, we can’t all live off apples but it would be a start and we all know that planting trees is great for the environment so it’s a win win all around. From an orchard might come a community harvest, then community pressing and juicing and perhaps preserving or cider making. We might celebrate our efforts by sharing food and perhaps a dance and from there more ideas might spawn as we realise how much we can achieve when we work together and support one another.

Some might argue that the simple act of planting an orchard is too little, we need to do more, faster, but without the experiences the Japanese have faced, we don’t feel that sense of urgency. It takes years and a different mindset to create a culture of growth like they’ve done. It takes years for a tree to reach maturity.

Isn’t it time we stopped thinking about ourselves and cast our minds to the future? Our day-to-day worries and concerns can’t be ignored, they’re real and they’re now and many of us are struggling to survive economic hardships. However, the warnings about our heating globe are becoming more urgent. We need to get our heads out of the sand and start thinking about our future generations, our children and theirs.

It’s time we stopped ignoring the warnings and started to plant the seeds of change.

If you’d like help or advice on planting an orchard, contact me here and I’ll do my best to help you or put you in touch with somebody who can.

Community Gardens

From basket to gourmet menu

August 31, 2013

We usually share a cuppa and a pack of jammy dodgers when we meet, so sitting together sharing food from a gourmet menu that mentions the Goresbridge community garden was a very special occasion for the gardeners and a new step along their journey.

Goresbridge Community Garden Fresh Produce Basket

A small delivery to The Step House for Chef to create our Lunch

I recently wrote about the new connection we’ve made with The Step House in Borris, County Carlow. If you missed it you can read it here but we’re at the start of quite an adventure.

Head Chef of The Step House Hotel & Restaurant, Borris, Co Carlow - Alan Foley

Head Chef of The Step House Hotel & Restaurant, Borris, Co Carlow – Alan Foley

We’re learning about supplying a local restaurant with fresh seasonal food, from harvesting and packaging skills and techniques to providing a steady flow of raw food (or not) – this is a new experience for us all. Like all good restaurants, Head Chef Alan Foley is creating linkages with local food producers from foragers to community gardeners, meat, game and vegetable suppliers and he’s enthusiastically embracing the fresh, quality ingredients available so close to his kitchen.

Step House Gardeners & Foragers Gourmet Menu


Our supply of herbs and vegetables isn’t consistent enough just yet to demand payment. It was therefore suggested that in exchange for our produce, Chef would create a menu for us once a month that would include our herbs and vegetables.

It gives the gardeners the opportunity to taste produce that’s been grown and cared for in the community garden and Chef to come up with different and seasonal recipes that might entice his customers.

We weren’t disappointed.

My first venture into rabbit will not be my last…

Fois Gras Cream, Harvey Jelly, Chive & Brioche

Fois Gras Cream, Harvey Jelly, Chive & Brioche

Even the non beetroot lovers of the party enjoyed the flavours in this dish.

gravalax of salmon with beetroot

Gravalax of salmon with beetroot

We delivered the butternut squash underripe but wouldn’t have known once it was in the hands of a master. It was roasted, seasoned, roasted again before being whisked with milk to keep it as low fat as possible.

Lightly spiced Goresbridge Pumpkin Soup

Lightly spiced Goresbridge Pumpkin Soup

The pork was cooked gently for twelve hours (can’t wait for our own now!!)

Confit of Tom Salter's Pork Belly

Confit of Tom Salter’s Pork Belly with Goresbridge Sage, Crab Apple Jus

and lastly the dessert, well need I say more…

Local Strawberry, Blueberry & Wild Blackberry Salad with Amaretto Cream

Local Strawberry, Blueberry & Wild Blackberry Salad with Amaretto Cream

We finished off with Chamomile Tea served in the beautiful tea pot which reflected my sunflower frock no matter how I tried to photograph it.

Time for Tea

Time for Tea

As you might imagine, we’re looking forward to developing our relationship with the Step House and will be having a planning meeting to discuss the crops we can grow for the restaurant at our next meet up.

Gardeners, Foragers & ChefIf you’re wondering what you can grow over winter in the garden, take a look at the free monthly downloadable printouts available on the monthly Jobs section of the Greenside Up website.

Community Gardens

How community gardens can help your school or college

August 15, 2013
This is it... total growing space for Callan community garden

This is it… total growing space for Callan community garden

School gardens are appearing in playgrounds everywhere and children are learning about where their food comes from.

From September to June, centres around the country are providing horticultural courses for adults as an informal pleasure activity and to further their education. This generally works well as it can be difficult to juggle courses and home life during the summer months. There’s one major flaw with this practice however…  Continue Reading…

Community Gardens

Chefs & Gardens ~ A Magical Combination

August 7, 2013

The gardeners of Goresbridge were delighted to welcome Alan Foley to the Community Garden this week.

Talking veg with Alan Foley, Head Chef of the Step House Hotel

Deep in menu discussions with Alan Foley, Head Chef of the Step House Hotel, Borris, Co Carlow

Alan is the award-winning Head Chef at the beautiful Step House Hotel in Borris and thanks to a Kilkenny Leader Partnership funded initiative, the community garden have started supplying the restaurant with herbs and vegetables from the small garden.

Goresbridge Community Garden - July 2013

Goresbridge Community Garden – July 2013

I’ve written many posts on Goresbridge community garden, having worked as their garden tutor since the spring of 2010 so it’s an absolute pleasure to see Continue Reading…