Go Organic!

Castlefarm ShopThinking back on it, it’s amazing how farming has changed in the last half century or so - for anyone growing up more than 50 or 60 years ago, organic farming was the norm; it didn’t need a label, it was just traditional farming.

Then, after World War Two all that changed with the drive to increase yields dramatically and – crucially - to produce cheap food. Now we’re coming full cycle and seeing the damage that intensive production can bring with it, so good traditionally produced food (mainly, but not necessarily, ‘organic’) is regaining its well-deserved status.

Coming in out of the culinary wilderness at last, organic food is less a niche area these days: more people are producing organically in Ireland, and more consumers see it as a mainstream alternative when you care about the quality and provenance of what you’re putting into your mouth - and, especially, your children’s mouths.

Castlefarm hensSomething that’s harder to learn – given the economic climate and massive emphasis on low prices in all of our shops – is that quality has a value, so we must recognise that cheap food is a false economy, and unsustainable.

We need to be prepared to spend more on food, to get quality and support local producers, but that should be seen as an investment – and lower health bills could well offset any extra food costs, with benefits such as reduced obesity levels putting less strain on the health system.

And we can also be more imaginative in the ingredients we choose, and make savings by opting for less expensive cuts of high quality food.

And, perfectly timed in early autumn when fresh seasonal Irish produce is at its most abundant, the annual National Organic Week celebrations have become a high point in the Irish foodie calendar.

Co-ordinated by Bord Bia (www.BordBia.ie/Organic_Week) and funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the week long campaign and promotional events runs aims to raise consumer awareness of organic food, how to recognise it when shopping and where to buy it.

Event highlights during National Organic Week 2010 (13th-19th September) include a Darina Allen cookery demonstration promoting good value organic meat cuts in the Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, Co. Cork on Wednesday 15th.

And anyone considering setting up in organic production should head to Birr, Co. Offaly on Thursday 16th September, to attend Teagasc’s National Organic Conference entitled ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Organic Producers’.

Organic enthusiasts all over the country are organising events that make a great family day out. In the West over the weekend of 18th-19th September, for example, Beechlawn Organic Farm (www.beechlawnfarm.org) at Ballinasloe, Co. Galway is holding an Open Day; in the North-West, there’s a Garden Allotment Day and a Harvest Picnic at the beautiful Georgian country house Enniscoe House, at Castle Hill, Ballina, Co. Mayo - and, down in the South-West, there’s an Organic BBQ and activities at Milltown Organic Store and Market, Milltown, Co. Kerry.

Castlefarm ApplesNearer Dublin, a range of fantastic venues includes Castlefarm (www.castlefarmshop.ie) near Athy, Co. Kildare, where well known organic farmers Peter and Jenny Young will host a farm walk and vegetable harvesting day on Saturday 18th September, and they’re also cooking a spit roasted Castlefarm organic pig for lunch; then on Sunday19th there’s an afternoon farm walk (foraging for crab apples and learning about bees and honey), followed by a cookery demonstration – and lots of organic goodies to buy from the farm shop too, of course.

Also on Sunday 19th September, Peter Ward from Country Choice, Nenagh , Co. Tipperary is organising the annual Blas an Fhomhair organic harvest lunch, a magnificent celebration of local organic produce with guest chef Hugo Arnold doing the honours.

Wherever you live, it’s all ‘go organic’ this month, so get out and enjoy it, buy some lovely seasonal organic produce – and then cook up something tasty for friends and family when you get home.

Soft boiled organic eggs and organic smoked salmon bagelsSoft Boiled Organic Eggs and Organic Smoked Salmon Bagels

Irish organic smoked salmon is farmed in the deep, strongly tidal waters off Clare Island in Co Mayo, and renowned for its flavour and muscular texture.

It goes perfectly with organic eggs – which are now becoming more widely available, as more organic producers go into poultry and egg production. If preferred, the salmon in these bagels could be replaced with slices of cooked ham - or try wilted spinach for a vegetarian alternative.

Serves 4

Click for recipe

Beetroot, Goats Cheese and Walnut SaladBeetroot, Goats' Cheese and Walnut Salad

The simplicity of this pretty dish allows quality ingredients to speak for themselves: with its lovely delicate herbal flavours, St Tola goats’ cheese from Co Clare contrasts well with sweet and deeply coloured beetroot to make a deliciously subtle starter or light lunch.

Be careful to use fresh walnuts, as they spoil and take on a bitter flavour when stored for too long.

Serves 2-4

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Greek style Organic Lamb Kebabs with Yoghurt DressingGreek-style Organic Lamb Kebabs with Yoghurt Dressing

Organic lamb benefits from the extra herbs and floral flavours that a natural farming system encourages – especially the late season lamb raised in mountainous areas, such as Connemara and Kerry, which is in season now.

Organic vegetables, herbs and yoghurt (eg Glenisk) are all now widely available, from farmers’ markets, specialist stores and good supermarkets. These kebabs would be delicious cooked either on the barbecue or under the grill.

Serves 4

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Organic Apple Tart with Whiskey Flavoured CustardOrganic Apple Tart with Whiskey Flavoured Custard

This recipe is a classic favourite from that great Euro-Toques chef John Howard, formerly of Dublin’s celebrated restaurant Le Coq Hardi.

You won’t find Irish organic sugar for it, alas (although you could substitute organic Irish honey in the tart itself) but Billington’s is widely available, and I find it noticeably different from ‘ordinary’ sugar.

Organic Irish apples are in season and, together with the cream and eggs, should be easy to source, along with organic ice cream to serve with the tart – not sure about the whiskey!

Serves 4

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