Cookery & Food Tourism Feature - Wonderful Waterford

Now growing into its role as a major player in Irish food and tourism, Waterford was in fine fettle at the recent Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan – long gone are the times when visitors looked for the famous signposts to Killarney, these days they have too many reasons to stay put and explore this lovely region and Ireland’s oldest city, founded by Vikings in 914AD.

Over 80 events took place at this year’s hugely successful festival, with attendance at around 75,000 - the largest in its 15-year history - and the dates have already been set for 2025 (April 25th-27th). Highlights this year included a dinner at The Tannery with Paul Flynn and legendary guest chef Rowley Leigh (currently of Chez Rowley in Notting Hill), a Bia Bus Tour around West Waterford, Kitchen Table Talks (a day-long series featuring exceptional people including Darina Allen, Fintan O’Toole among other luminaries), a Seafood Lunch at Cliff House Hotel, a garden/lunch event at Mount Congreve Gardens and a magnificent banquet at Lismore Castle…All that and much more, including my own special reason for being there, a lunch Celebrating Our Trailblazers at Dungarvan’s beautifully restored Old Bank Restaurant

This was a treat on so many levels, the gorgeous venue and its delicious locavore food included, and it brought together some of the wonderful women who laid the foundations for the region’s success in food and hospitality back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. People like Laurann Fitzgerald (Seanachi Bar, Dungarvan), Lauri Coakley (The Shamrock Restaurant & Townhouse, Dungarvan), Mary Wall (Hanora’s Cottage, Nire Valley), Eileen Harty (Ring Farmhouse Cheese and Gortnadiha B&B), Esther Barron (Barrons Bakery Cappoquin), and Gertie Ormond (Ormond Café & Townhouse - and currently Kilcannon House B&B - Dungarvan), all of whom had fascinating stories to tell about the area back in the day. Some will also remember the independently assessed West Waterford Good Food Tree ‘guide to good eating’, an initiative supported by Bord Bia and Waterford Leader Partnership that I was involved with in the 1990s, which was an important step away from pay-in local directories and towards the quality-led food tourism that we see in action today. The pottery members’ plaque featuring Ken Buggy’s unique tree design is still to be seen in the area – at the door of the lovely Whitehorses in Ardmore, for example. 

And, hot on the heels of the recent food festival, a series of enticing announcements has already followed – there’s the Taste Waterford Mountain Splendour Food Tour  (selected dates); the 4-day Waterford Slow Travel Experience Itinerary; the Dive into Waterford Photographic Competition; and – coming very soon, 27th May-3rd June 2024 – the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, which will be taking place throughout the Blackwater Valley in Waterford and Cork. The energy and community co-operation in the area is infectious and it’s a great destination for short breaks and staycations, as well as a joy for visitors to discover.

The experiences promised are are wide-ranging and holistic, but good cooking is at the heart of the Waterford success story, so here are a few related recipes to try:

Helvick Fish Pie
Eunice Power - TV chef, director of the Waterford Food Festival, owner of the super little Dungarvan restaurant …And Chips, ambassador for Irish food and ingredients and much more, has been energetically promoting the region for decades. Amongst her many other activities – which have included running a B&B and a cookery school – she also wrote a delightfully down to earth cookbook for Waterford Stanley, ‘Cook with Stanley’, which is well worth picking up if you spot a copy. This collection of wholesome recipes includes a delicious fish pie, which is “a useful dish to prepare ahead and chill, ready for reheating later in the day. The fish used can be varied to suit the occasion and the season, using a whitefish or salmon as the basis for the mixed fish, and adding mussels, prawns or whatever is available at your local fishmongers”. Serves 4:

1¾lb/800g mixed fish
12 fl oz/350ml milk
1 bay leaf
1 oz/25g butter
1 oz/25g flour
2 fl oz/50ml white wine
2 fl oz/50ml chicken stock
Salt & pepper
3 sprigs chopped fresh dill
3 lb / 1.3kg potatoes
Butter & milk, as required

Cut the fish into similar-sized portions, if necessary, and poach in the milk with the bay leaf, until the fish is opaque. Strain the milk off the fish and reserve for the sauce. Flake the fish off the skin, check for bones and place in a pie dish.
To make a white sauce, melt the butter and add the flour to make a roux; cook over gentle heat for 1-2 minutes, then blend in the wine and chicken stock, stirring with a whisk over moderate heat until the sauce becomes thick, then add the reserved milk as required and stir to make a thick, smooth sauce. Season to taste and add the chopped dill.
Pour the sauce over the fish and allow to cool. Preheat a moderate oven, 350’F/180’C. Steam the potatoes until cooked, then peel and mash with the milk and butter until light and fluffy. Season to taste. Smooth the mashed potatoes over the fish and sauce in the pie dish and place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Mille Feuilles Flapjacks With Lemon Cream
Established in 1785, Flahavan’s of Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford is Ireland’s oldest family-run food business yet, now in its 7th generation, it has never stopped looking forward. Although the much-loved porridge oats remain the core product, their constantly evolving range is innovative and they’re very community focused and environmentally aware too – a current initiative, for example, associates their Organic Oats with Waterford city’s GIY enterprise, in a competition to Win a GROWbox for Bees, and Flahavan’s sponsored several highly relevant events at the recent Waterford Festival of Food, including the Kids Bake Off competition. They’ve received many well-deserved accolades over the years, including one of our own Irish Breakfast Awards and a special Environmental Award from the Irish `Food Writers’ Guild - when Derry Clarke (currently Culinary Director at The Club at Goffs ) created this timeless dessert recipe to mark the event. Serves 4


200ml (7fl oz) cream
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon curd
4 redcurrant sprigs
icing sugar, to dust
For the flapjacks:
175g (6oz) butter, plus extra for greasing
175g (6oz) light muscovado sugar
175g (6oz) golden syrup
350g (12oz) rolled oats
Serving & decoration suggestions:
• finely crushed praline, vanilla ice cream, fresh mint sprigs
• lemon curd coulis and raspberry coulis

First make the flapjacks: Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF), Gas mark 2. Grease a shallow tin measuring about 28 x 18 x 4cm (11 x 7in). Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a heavy-based pan over a low heat and then pour it into the rolled oats. Mix well and turn the mixture into the prepared tin to a 5mm (¼ in) thickness and press down well. Bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown.
Leave to cool for about 5 minutes, then mark into 5 x 4cm (2 x 1½in) rectangles with a sharp knife and loosen around the edges. When firm, remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack, then snap into the marked out rectangles. These can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
To make the lemon cream: Whip the cream, lemon curd and lemon rind in a bowl until soft peaks form. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 5mm (¼ in) fluted nozzle.
To assemble the dessert: Place four of the flapjacks on a flat surface and pipe over a layer of the lemon cream; cover with another flapjack followed by another layer of lemon cream. Finish each one with a flapjack and add a sprig of redcurrants, then give a light dusting of icing sugar.
To serve: Using a palette knife, transfer to serving plates and add a sprinkling of praline to the side of each one and top with a scoop of the vanilla ice cream decorated with a mint sprig. Alternate tiny spoonfuls of the lemon curd coulis and the raspberry coulis to serve.

Mushroom Soup in a Blaa
Esther Barron of Barron’s Bakery & Coffee House in Cappoquin was one of the legendary ladies honoured at Waterford Food Festival’s lovely ‘Celebrating Our Trailblazers’ lunch at The Old Bank (see above), and this recipe is from their super book ‘Our Daily Bread’ (hardback ‘with a cover the soft feel of a loaf of bread’), which is available on their website. “This is an easy recipe and quantities of ingredients don't have to be exact, so you can avoid using the weighing scales. You can serve this in a crusty roll, such as one of Barron's traditional blaas*,” explains Esther. “The bread taken out of the roll to make space for the soup is used as breadcrumbs to thicken the soup. The cut-off tops can be buttered or dipped in olive oil.” *The Waterford ‘blaa’ is a local speciality bread roll with EU protected Geographical Indication - PGI - designation for regional foods and ingredients.    Serves 4

2 handfuls mushrooms, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Knob of butter
500ml water or stock
1 handful breadcrumbs
Chopped parsley
½ teaspoon chopped chilli or chilli flakes (optional)
Splash of milk or cream (optional).

In a saucepan with the lid on cook the onions, garlic and mushrooms in the butter until the onion is soft. Add the stock, which can be chicken, beef or vegetable, or water, with a dash of soya sauce. Gently simmer for 10 minutes.
Cut the tops off four rolls. Remove most of the inside, leaving a thick enough crust to hold the soup. Brush the inside with melted butter and place in the oven for 10 minutes at 180°C, 350°F, GAS 4 to crisp up a little.
In the meantime, make breadcrumbs from the insides of the rolls.
To finish the soup add the breadcrumbs and cook for a further 5 minutes until the soup thickens and becomes deliciously creamy. Add a splash of milk or cream to finish if you fancy it, and top with chopped parsley and/or chilli in winter.
Spoon the soup gently into the rolls and serve.

Baked Pears with Gingerbread and Cream
Paul Flynn’s arrival back in his hometown of Dungarvan in1997, to open The Tannery with his wife Máire, was a watershed moment for the town, and for the region. When working on the 1990s Waterford Good Food Tree guide I received a letter from Jean Duffy (of Waterford LEADER partnership), saying ‘I had a phone call from Paul Flynn (La Stampa) who is opening a restaurant in Dungarvan in a week or so…’ And the rest, of course, is history. A great Irish chef whose reputation is built as much on his caring selection of the best seasonal local ingredients as on his impressive skills in the kitchen, he may now be a household name for his TV work, cookery school and the Irish Times columns – now published as a single work in the acclaimed cookbook Butter Boy - but it’s easy to forget that overnight success was a long time coming and, although now recognised as a great man with the words, Butter Boy is his fifth book. The first was ‘An Adventure with Irish Food’, followed by ‘Second Helpings’ (Collins Press) which included cartoons by the inimitable Ken Buggy, then of Buggy’s Glecairn Inn, nearby at Lismore (and illustrator of West Waterford’s Good Food Tree). It has all the great man’s hallmarks - a really lovely read and lots of refreshingly simple dishes, such as luscious this dessert of Baked Pears with Gingerbread and Cream which, Paul says, ‘will still be scrumptious without the gingerbread, but I just think that final flourish lifts it to another crunchy level’ Serves 4

A small knob of butter
4 large pears (firm but ripe)
300ml /1/2 pint cream
50g/ 2oz caster sugar
2 drops vanilla extract
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly grated root ginger
4 slices of gingerbread, crumbled (optional but nice)
sprigs of fresh mint to decorate.

Preheat the oven to 190’C/375’F/gas mark 5.
Lightly butter a large shallow baking dish, or four individual ones. Peel the pears and cut in half lengthways, then carefully remove the cores. Arrange on the buttered dish in a single layer, cut side down.
Mix the cream, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and root ginger until well combined. Pour over the pears then bake for 20 minutes, or until the pears are almost tender and the cream is well reduced.
Remove the pears from the oven and sprinkle the crumbled gingerbread on top (if using).
Bake for another 5 minutes until well heated through. The pears should now be completely tender and the cream thick and bubbly. Leave to cool slightly and decorate with sprigs of mint before serving straight to the table.

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