Georgina Campbell's Cookery Feature - Down to Earth Cooking

Down To Earth Cookbook (Colourpoint, £9.99)Georgina Campbell

Who better to kick off 2016 - the NI Year of Food and Drink - than Northern Ireland’s best loved food writer, Paula McIntyre, disseminator of good sense on John Toal’s Saturday Magazine programme on BBC Radio Ulster and much else besides. Through her timely and aptly-named Down To Earth Cookbook (Colourpoint, £9.99), a curious newcomer would get a very good feeling for the distinctive flavour of the region’s food - and the nature of its cooks.

And what is it about North Antrim, I wonder, that it has produced such extraordinary female chefs - to take just three examples, I noticed with interest the other day that Paula McIntyre, Trish Deseine and the high-flying yet delightfully down to earth Clare Smyth MBE (Chef Patron at London’s Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) all come from small farming communities ‘up there’, and almost within a cockerel’s call of each other at that. Which says a great deal about the quality of both the ingredients and the cooking in their childhood kitchens.

Much will be said and written about the food of Northern Ireland in the coming year and praise is well deserved. It really is a place apart. I knew that from the moment I arrived at Aldergrove airport as a student many moons ago, to see the famous hares leaping all over the grass - they featured recently on Countryfile, and it was lovely to hear that they are still entertaining passengers today.

On the food front in those days, there may not have been the ‘choice’ that we have today but the sheer quality of easily available ingredients allowed us to eat simply yet very well - terrific breads, fresh vegetables and meats, especially great pork products, and, as an occasional treat, superb beef from Sinnamons of Donegall Pass.

Wooden boxes overflowing with wonderful earthy vegetables also played starring roles - and the best treats were conveyed, it must be acknowledged, by the gentleman caller, and now husband of several decades. Food was definitely the way to this woman’s heart, and the cooking of it to his.

Despite the huge changes in shopping (and eating out), the essence of that local food quality remains true today, for the careful shopper at least, and there are many specialities that other regions would give anything for.

Paula McIntyreThe baking tradition in Northern Ireland is still very strong and ‘different’ (see Paula’s soda farls, below), and the region’s superb produce includes specialities like Lough Neagh Eels (see recipe below- which is fancy, but a simpler alternative is suggested), Comber Earlies and Armagh Bramley Apples, all of which have been awarded Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status by the European Commission.

And, while the pork butcher may be a thing of the past, alas, world class meats are produced here - one has only to think of the Glenarm Shorthorns, Dexter and even Irish Moiled beef (the latter from Pheasants’ Hill Farm, Co Down), or a village like Moira, where you can find leading meat suppliers like McCartneys and Hannan’s just yards from each other, to understand the sheer quality and pride that underlies the exciting recent developments in Northern Ireland’s food culture.

Fish too - just visit St George’s Market on a Saturday to see a display of beautiful sea fish that would be hard to match anywhere in Ireland - and then of course there are the specialities such as salmon (notably organically farmed at Glenarm, excellent both fresh and smoked), prawns (langoustine) and hand dived scallops from Strangford Lough...

Even herbs and flavourings have their own distinction in the North: ‘soup celery’, for example, is mentioned by Paula in her recipes below. Like a cross between celery and parsley, it is grown for its strongly flavoured leaves and is a commonly used ingredient in Northern Ireland, yet little known elsewhere.

How fortunate that we are only at the start of Northern Ireland’s Year of Food & Drink - there is so much more of interest to explore.

Treacle soda farlsPAULA MACINTYRE’S Down to Earth Cookbook RECIPES:

Treacle soda farls

“Sticky, tar-like treacle adds rich, sweet and bitter notes to baking. Ginger cake would not have the same appeal without the addition of treacle and by the same token it adds so much to a traditional soda farl. Farls are deep rooted in our bread culture in Northern Ireland. You won't find this indigenous staple anywhere else except here. The recipe is simple, taking plain flour, salt and baking soda, and mixing with buttermilk to a soft dough.

It is then gently coaxed into a flat round, cut into quarters and cooked gently on a griddle. Adding some treacle gives the bread a splendid amber glow and a tangy, honey like taste.”


350g self raising soda bread flour
pinch salt
1 tablespoon treacle
325ml buttermilk


Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

Whisk the treacle and buttermilk together and pour into the well.

Mix to a soft dough and place on a floured surface. Knead gently into a ball and flatten to 2cm thick.

Cut into 4 or cut in half and then cut each half in 4 for a more compact soda.

Leave for 5 minutes while you heat up your griddle or a couple of frying pans (it's important the farls have room to spread slightly) to medium heat.

Add the farls and leave for 4 minutes. Flip over and cook for roughly the same on the other side - when they sound hollow when you tap them, they're ready.

Cool slightly on a wire rack, split open and spread with butter and jam.

They're also really good with some smoked or fresh poached salmon.


TurnipCider braised turnip with crispy bacon

I love that Down to Earth Cooking begins with vegetables and fruit, the more obvious meats and poultry only coming in at Chapter Three. And, “Call me shallow but I tend to judge people on their feelings about turnips!” says Paula in her introduction to this simple, delicious dish. “They're an emotive vegetable that some people just don't get. A steaming pan of turnip, plunged into crispy bacon with onion, butter and a few grinds of fresh black pepper is in my top 5 favourite dishes. My treat tea when I was growing up was always butcher's beef sausages, turnip and mash. It reminds me of home, my mum Rae and my late Granny Kathleen - food with soul can and should do that.

Turnip and cider are natural culinary bedfellows and this recipe is for turnip braised with cider and topped with crispy bacon. The sweet turnip is lightly cooked with onion and thyme in butter first, then cooked slowly with cider and stock. The bacon adds a crisp texture and salty note.”

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
25g butter
1 medium turnip, peeled, quartered and cut into 2cm dice
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
few sprigs fresh thyme
200ml chicken stock
250ml local cider
fresh ground pepper to taste
6 rashers streaky bacon
handful chopped parsley

Heat the oil and butter in a casserole pot over medium heat and add the turnip.

Cook until starting to colour and add the thyme and onions.

Cook until the onions are golden and add the stock and cider.

Cover with a lid and gently simmer for about 30 minutes until the turnips are soft.

Meanwhile place the bacon on a baking tray and cook in a 180°C oven until crisp. Pat dry and chop.

Remove the lid and boil to reduce the liquid to sauce coating consistency.

Season with black pepper, toss in the parsley and scatter over the bacon.


Cider glazed eels with apple and dulse butter, crystallised dulse, and apple and soup celery dressingCider glazed eels with apple and dulse butter, crystallised dulse, and apple and soup celery dressing

It is ironic that eel fishing has been banned south of the border since 2009, yet Lough Neagh eel is feted with the approval of the European Commission which awarded it Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status in 2011; European eel stocks, which are a source of great mystery, have apparently recovered unexpectedly well since the drastic conservation measure was introduced, so traditional eel fishers in the south must now be hoping for some kind of repeal, however conditional.

We certainly enjoy seeking it out in the Lough Neagh area when researching our ‘Taste of the Waterways’ guide, which we produce in partnership with Waterways Ireland. “When I cook eel, despite initial misgivings, most people are converted.” says Paula. “The snakey image doesn't do much for its popularity but, once you get over that, the beautiful soft flesh with earthy notes is wonderful. You can buy smoked eels readily now but for fresh silver eel you need to get it from the source at the Fisherman's Cooperative at Toomebridge in County Derry. They'll provide them gutted and you just need to cut them into thumb length pieces. Around the lough shore, eel is still eaten as part of a 'supper' with fried onions and soda farl. My recipe includes apple and dulse, and is one that I cooked at a slow food banquet for 200 people in Bristol in 2015, as part of the Food Connections festival in the city. BBC Radio 4 producer and presenter Dan Saladino hosted the event and is now a champion for this uniquely northern Irish delicacy. The eel and dulse combination even managed to convert a couple of vegetarians.
The sweet apple butter with salty dulse, sweet crisp dulse for texture and the tart apple and savoury soup celery is a perfect combination.

Serve with some warm farls.

* One tip - cook the eels outside - their oil is quite the pungent thing! Or you could use smoked eel instead - just flash them in a hot pan for 10 seconds and glaze.”


Apple and dulse butter


500g peeled, chopped and cored Armagh cooking apple
175g soft brown sugar
pinch ground clove
1 tablespoon dulse, finely chopped


Place the apples in a pan with the sugar and the clove.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the apples are soft.

Blend and fold in the dulse.


Crystallised dulse


handful dried dulse
brown lemonade


Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set the oven to its lowest setting - preferably around 100°C. Place about 50ml of brown lemonade in an atomiser. Spray over the dulse. If you don't have an atomiser, just brush the dulse with the lemonade. Place in the oven until crisp - about 1 hour.


Apple and soup celery dressing

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
25ml cider vinegar
75ml local rapeseed oil
½ medium Armagh cooking apple
2 tablespoons picked soup celery leaves
salt to taste


Place the mustard in a bowl and whisk in the honey and vinegar.

Whisk in the oil in a steady stream and then check for seasoning.

Peel the apple and cut into quarters.

Core the apple and slice thinly.

Cut each slice into matchsticks (pile them up to do this as it's quicker) then cut into small dice.

Add to the dressing and toss around.

Shred the soup celery leaves as finely as possible and fold into the dressing.

Place the eel onto a platter, drizzle over the dressing and garnish with the apple butter and dulse.

Serve with soda farls, buttered liberally.


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