Blackcurrants – A Taste Of Ireland I Miss In America

I love the intense tart flavor of black currants, a distinctive taste of the British Isles I have missed during the past twenty-something years spent living in America. 

Black Currants

Last week my sister’s backyard black currant bushes were laden with fruit ready for harvesting. I willingly volunteered to be her fruit picker for the day.

Blackcurrants remind me of my Granny. Her garden boasted many fruitful shrubs. During the last week of July each year her finger tips were stained purple as she picked thousands of black currants for jam.

Black Currants Close-Up

Few Americans know the taste of fresh black currants, or have ever even heard of the fruit.  I never understood why, until I decided to do a little bit of research for this post.

I was surprised to learn most states banned cultivation of black currants for most of the last century.  Brought to America by early English settlers, the 20th century brought a quick end to their earlier popularity.

Apparently the bushes can be carriers of a fungus lethal to pine trees. Identified as a threat to the vital logging industry in the U.S. black currants were simply outlawed in 1911.

Blackcurrant Bush

And over the next one hundred years the poor black currant was simply forgotten.  They faded from the American countryside, supermarket, and memory.

New disease-resistant varieties of currants were developed in the 1960′s. When the federal ban on growing currants was transferred to individual state jurisdiction in 1966, this lowly berry made no comeback whatsoever.

Not until recent years did a few states in the north east repeal the ban on their cultivation. Black currant growing is still outlawed in several states. I hope in years to come more and more Americans will welcome back the black currant, and farmers will start jumping on the currant cart so-to-speak.

Bowl Of Black Currants

With a deep and musky aroma, these dark berries are no where as sweet as the favored American blueberry.  Their distinctive mouth-puckering sourness mean they are best when tempered with a little sugar

Black currants grow in bunches of small, glossy, black fruit and are perfect for making jams, jellies and syrups.  Their perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, make them an ideal ingredient for sauces to accompany fattier meats.

Used in Europe for making juices and cordials, delicious purple sorbets, or compote’s for ice cream, the fruit is extremely popular in Ireland.

Growing Black Currants

The currants ripen fairly evenly, with harvest typically taking place during the last week of July. My sister’s berries ripened on cue this year, especially after all the wonderful sunshine enjoyed over this amazing Irish summer.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out black currants have four times more vitamin C than oranges, and twice the antioxidants of blueberries.

Are blackcurrants after all the berry best fruit for you?

And so I hope you have enjoyed my photos and ramblings through an Irish fruit garden where last week I spent some very relaxing hours picking the berries of my childhood, with happy thoughts of days gone by swirling through my mind.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

A Taste Of Sligo

I’m coming to the end of a wonderful trip full of warm welcomes in Sligo, where I learned all about the versatility of Irish stew, feasted on the most scrumptious food Ireland has to offer, and above all met some wonderful new friends.

Garavogue River, Sligo

Sligo’s Garavogue River At Night

I am thrilled to say my Guinness Beef Stew was awarded a Silver Award in the World Irish Stew Amateur Competition.  A big thank you to the organizers of this fantastic, fun contest which I hope will continue to grow in years to come.

The official event photographer is going to send me some of his photos, so in the coming weeks we’ll have a stewing good time.  I never imagined there are so many ways to cook, season, plate, and savor the humble stew.  So stay tuned to learn all about Irish stew.

Warm Tomato And Local Basil Shot

Warm Tomato And Local Basil Shot

But rest assured there was far more to my gourmet trip to Sligo.  I was thrilled to attend the Gala Banquet honoring the chefs and students who made this event possible.  Before I picked up my fork or spoon, or lifted a glass, I remembered to raise my camera to take a shot of these delicious dishes to share with you.

To-MAY-to or to-MAH-to, whatever you choose to call it, this was the most delicious soup I ever tasted.  I don’t even like tomato soup, but I could have thrown back a few more shots of this one.

Mixed Achonry Lettuce Leaf With Blacklion Duck Liver Parfait

Mixed Achonry Lettuce Leaf With Blacklion Duck Liver Parfait

Simply delicious – what more can I say.

Grilled Fresh Mullaghmore Mackerel and Lissadell Mussels, Fennel Remolade and Herb Dressing

Grilled Fresh Mullaghmore Mackerel and Lissadell Mussels, Fennel Remolade and Herb Dressing

No gourmet meal is complete without a fish course.  Fresh, local fish from the shores of Sligo helped create this sumptious feast. Just perfect!

Duo of Local Pork Belly and Sous-Vide Rump of Sliced Lamb, Black Pudding Croquette, Carrot Puree and Red Wine Jus

Duo of Local Pork Belly and Sous-Vide Rump of Sliced Lamb, Black Pudding Croquette, Carrot Puree and Red Wine Jus

Irish chefs know how to cook good, wholesome food, plating it in a unique and inviting manner, to get your taste buds tingling and your mouth watering.

Chef's Seasonal Platter of Rhubarb

Chef’s Seasonal Platter of Rhubarb

This dessert was my favorite course, a perfect combination of sweet and tart.  My Irish sweet tooth was delighted by this combination.  I always find American desserts a little too sweet, so I was in heaven as I savored my rhubarb blancmange.

To tell you the truth I am a little bit of a rhubarb freak.  This summer I’ll share some of my favorite rhubarb recipes with you.  Can’t wait to see some for sale in Louisville.  Just like Ireland, rhubarb grows well in Kentucky soil.

IMG_0885

Don’t worry! It’s Irish craic, not the American variety being promoted in this poster.  After experiencing the culinary excellence of Sligo, my faith in and love of Irish food grew stronger. I definitely will make no apologies for Irish food.

Sligo By Night

Sligo’s Glasshouse Hotel By Night

Thank you to the Glasshouse Hotel and their amazing chefs and staff for treating us to such a wonderful meal.

Sligo is a beautiful town situated in one of the most scenic settings in the whole wide world.  The sun may only have peeped out for one day of my stay, but that didn’t stop me from taking photos.  I’ll share my shots over the coming days and weeks.  So come back again for another taste of all that Sligo has to offer, or even better, make sure to visit Sligo and experience some of the wonderful restaurants throughout the town and county.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

World Irish Stew Championship

Entries are flying in for the fourth World Irish Stew Championship which takes place in St Angela’s College in Sligo, Ireland on 1st and 2nd May 2013.

irish-stew-11Photo Courtesy Of World Irish Stew Championship

The 1st of May will see professional and student chefs from kitchens and colleges all over the world demonstrate their skills to create the ultimate Irish Stew! The judging panel, a team of chefs and competition judges selected by head judge Gabriel Mc Sharry, will decide who will earn the title in two categories – professional and student chef.

irish-stew-51

Photo Courtesy of World Irish Stew Championship

Entries can be made online on the World Irish Stew Championship website, where there are also application forms for other culinary competitions including the Sligo Signature Dish, and a Mystery Basket competition.

Not only professional chefs can enter their stew, but home cooks can enter the competition by taking a photo of their stew and uploading it along with the recipe on the World Irish Stew Championship website.  The best will be selected and brought to beautiful County Sligo to compete in the final on 2nd May and they will also be treated to a Sligo Gourmet Adventure!

the-winning-irish-stew-2012-by-samuel-mullholland-2Photo Courtesy of the World Irish Stew Championship

The World Irish Stew Championship has been running since 2010 as part of So Sligo Food Festival and this year thanks to the Gathering IBB Fund and assistance given by the Gathering initiative, it has become what is hoped to be an annual global event in County Sligo.

The organizers would love to see some international entries, so why not get cooking here in the US, and share some of your recipes handed down through the generations.  Who knows, you might win a trip to Ireland!

Wishing all entrants every success in this great competition.  Happy stewing!

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

 

Chips And Curry Sauce

Chips and curry sauce is a favorite late night snack in Ireland and England.  When I say chips I am referring to the Irish equivalent to steak fries accompanied by a sweet, spicy curry sauce.

This chip sauce is different to a regular Indian curry.  It has fewer veggies and is slightly less hot and spicy, with a satisfying sweet flavor.

I received an e-mail from a reader a few weeks past.  She requested I share my curry sauce recipe which I mentioned when I showed you how to make perfect Irish chips.  She first tasted this unique combination on a trip to my homeland.  A waiter suggested she try curry sauce with her fries and she loved it.  She savored this treat many more times before returning  to the US, where ever since she has been searching for a recipe to help revive her tasty memories of Ireland.

This may not be gourmet food, but in Ireland chip shops make gallons of curry sauce to satisfy their hungry customers.  I confess I never bothered making it from scratch when I lived in Ireland.  There didn’t seem to be any point, when it could be so easily found at the local chipper, or made by simply adding hot water to a dried, powdery concoction of who knows what.  I am pretty certain that’s how chip shops create their signature sauces too.

Once I moved to America I discovered curry sauce was not to be found.  I needed to create my own homemade version to satisfy my curry cravings.  So today, here is my recipe for chip shop curry sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion (peeled and diced)
  • 1 large apple (peeled and diced)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • salt and pepper (to taste)

Optional

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

Next step is to prepare the spice blend for the sauce.  In a small bowl or ramekin add the curry powder, turmeric, cumin, ground coriander seed, and cinnamon.  I love the browns and tans of the spices in the bowl.

I use Sharwoods hot curry powder which I can buy in my local Meijers supermarket.  If you prefer a lower spicy, heat level then use an American mild curry powder.  The difference is significant.

Add the oil to a large skillet over medium to high heat.  Add the onions and saute for 4 minutes.  Caramelized onions add delicious sweetness to the sauce.

Next add the peeled and diced apple to the pan and saute for another 2 minutes.

Toss in the minced garlic and ginger.

Next comes the aromatic spice blend.

Mix the spices and onions together as they cook for another minute.

Flour is my sauce thickener of choice.  Cook it over medium heat for 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan as you combine the mixture completely.

The flour can burn and stick to the bottom of the pan very easily.  See how my pan is getting a little crusty looking.  That’s because I stopped stirring to take a photo.

Now lets get saucy.  Gradually add the stock while you constantly stir the mixture to prevent lumps forming.  Scrape the bottom of the pan as you mix everything together.  Bring it to a boiling point, then reduce the heat so the sauce is just simmering.

Now comes my secret ingredient.  I add a teaspoon of worcestershire sauce, not a typical curry requirement.  I just love the extra dimension it adds to the exotic flavors of this sauce.

A hint of sweetness is next.  Add the tomato paste and two teaspoons of sugar.  Season with salt and pepper and mix everything together.  Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Some cooks like to add a teaspoon of lemon juice at this point, but I prefer not to detract from the sweetness of my curry sauce.  Feel free to try it if you want to add a little freshness at the end.

Decision time has now arrived.  To blitz or not to blitz that is the question.

If you prefer a textured sauce with lumps of apple and caramelized onion then skip this step.  In our house there is no skipping a little spin in the blender.  My husband likes onion flavor, but detests their texture, so I always make a smooth curry sauce.

Before blending turn the heat off under the pan and allow the sauce to cool a little.  This is a precautionary step just  in case of blender accidents.  Sticky, boiling curry sauce can easily burn.  Believe me – I know.  I’ve had a few blender explosions in my day.  I now always hold the lid down with a dish towel when I switch the beast on.

When ready pour the sauce into the blender and blitz until smooth (1 to 2 minutes depending on how powerful your blender is).

Return the sauce to the pan and turn the heat back on.  Time for another decision – to add raisins or not.  I love the sweet surprise of golden raisins in this spicy sauce.  If you decide to go with them, then just toss them in and stir them around.

Then you’re ready to serve your spicy sauce with perfectly golden chips or fries.

Just one more decision to make.

Do you pour your sauce all over the top of your chips?

Or do you prefer to dip your chips?  Big, big decisions!

But what ever your final eating style, just enjoy.

Here is the printable recipe:

Curry Sauce For Chips

Serves 4
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Region British
Chips and curry sauce is a favorite late night snack in Ireland and England. When I say chips I am referring to the Irish equivalent to steak fries accompanied by a sweet, spicy curry sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 Large onion (peeled and diced)
  • 1 Large apple (peeled and diced)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • salt and pepper (to taste)

Optional

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

Directions

Step 1 Prepare the spice blend by mixing the curry powder, turmeric, cumin, ground coriander seeds and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Step 2 Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute for 4 minutes over medium heat..
Step 3 Add the diced apple and cook for another 2 minutes.
Step 4 Add the minced ginger and garlic and stir.
Step 5 Add the spice blend to the onion mixture and stir constantly as it cooks for 2 more minutes.
Step 6 Add the flour and stir constantly as it cooks for 2 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent burning.
Step 7 Gradually add the chicken stock, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming.
Step 8 Add worcestershire sauce, sugar, tomato puree and stir. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 9 Bring the sauce to boiling point, stirring constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes.
Step 10 Turn the heat off, and allow the sauce to cool slightly before blending. When cool enough add the sauce to a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth.
Step 11 Return the sauce to the pan over medium heat. Add golden raisins if desired.
Step 12 Serve hot with a side of chips or french fries.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

I’ll Make No Apologies For Irish Food

I love Irish food.  My childhood was happy and healthy, nourished by plenty of potatoes, succulent meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and my mother’s homemade cakes, breads and desserts.  When I moved to America over twenty years ago I was astonished to hear so many disparaging remarks about my national cuisine.

I remember watching the Today show one morning.  Bryant Gumble was hosting back then.  His recent trip to Ireland was a highlight of that particular show.  I watched with pride as he praised the beauty of my homeland.  My bubble soon burst.  He threw his eyes to heaven once he mentioned Irish food.

 

When Irish American comedian Dennis Leary was being roasted by

his friends at Comedy Central, he joked it should have been a boil

instead of a roast. His Irish mother and most Irish women have a

penchant for boiling nearly every meal.  

 

Irish born actor, Peter O’Toole, said his three favorite Irish foods were all Guinness.   Poor Irish food! It often takes a beating here in America.

Our cooking has a reputation for being bland, sauceless and lacking in flavor.   This opinion is understandable in a world where exotic spices are over-rated, and food is expected to appeal to the eye more than to the palate.  The old joke tells how the Irish cook’s spice drawer holds nothing but salt and pepper.

Irish food may seem dull to some, but for me it is the straightforward simplicity of its ingredients and techniques that put it in a distinctive, satisfying class all of its own.

French cuisine is magnificent, yet not for the everyday cook with little time to fuss and fume over sautee pans and steaming pots.  In years gone by the Irish cook had little more than an open fire and a big black pot for cooking.  As a result traditional Irish meals are not elaborate.

 

Simple and economical, Irish food does not try to mask the true

flavor of wholesome, quality ingredients.  It is an unpretentious

cuisine, whose strength lies in its simplicity.

Many Americans eat out way too often.  Sometimes I think the home cook is intimidated by the complexity of many ethnic cuisines.  Cooking shows focus on elaborate recipes and visually appealing dishes, rather than assisting the home cook to learn simple, economical family favorites.

Irish Americans have an unjustified, inferiority complex about the traditional recipes of our forefathers.   We need to learn to be proud of our cuisine.  To this day it is the rustic food of my childhood that I long for, not the fancy food I first tasted when I lived in New York.

Anyone who has tasted a Guinness beef stew, or a roast leg of lamb, can testify to the glories of Irish cooking.  With Thanksgiving fast approaching America is now planning the great family get-together and time-honored dinner menu.  This week I plan to share some of my recipes that can help give an Irish twist to a traditional American Thanksgiving meal.

We’ll learn how to cook rutabagas, and roast potatoes.  Remember, the Irish know plenty about cooking turkey.  An Irish Christmas dinner usually features roast turkey.

 

And so I make no apologies for Irish food.  I plan to keep cooking as

my mother cooked, and her mother and grandmother before her.  

 

Come back and visit often.  Together we can bring Irish American food to a new level of excellence and appreciation.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom