Rachel Gaffney's Letter from Texas

The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas shares a story from a recent Irish Culinary Adventure

In April 2018, nine ladies from Oklahoma, Texas and New Jersey set out on an ‘Irish Culinary Adventure’. We made our way to Carlingford, Co Louth, a medieval town situated along Ireland’s ancient East coast, founded by the Anglo Normans in the 12th century. Carlingford was pivotal in changing their perception of Irish food forever.

Carlingford is home to that famous mollusc, the oyster. It is here that you can eat an oyster directly from the Lough, as the water is classified by the European Union as Class A, the highest grade you can get. The oyster was to be the star of our adventure for the next 2 days.

We arrived at Ghan House, a Georgian property built in 1727, on Sunday afternoon. Paul Carroll, the proprietor welcomed us in the drawing room, where freshly brewed tea and coffee, home made scones and freshly baked shortbreads awaited us. Paul talked animatedly about his beloved Ghan House and medieval town, offering everyone suggestions and tips on how to spend their afternoon. Some went antiquing and looking at old Abbey, others went for lunch and shopping. I on the other hand went cycling along the Carlingford Omeath Greenway with Paul.

After an exhilarating afternoon, we gathered in the cocktail bar for pre-dinner drinks and it was here that the ladies were introduced to the gin phenomenon that has quite literally captured the nations attention. Shortcross Gin, Bertha’s Revenge, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, Minke Gin infused with the aniseed flavour of rock samphire and Blackwater Gin to name but a few. It was their first time to be introduced to elderflower tonic and so this sparked the conversation about elderflowers in Ireland and how they are foraged and used. Later dinner was served and it was in my humble opinion one of the best meals I have had to date in Ireland.

The following morning saw grey skies and a light sprinkling of rain but not enough to dampen our spirits as we drove the few miles to the family run ‘Carlingford Oyster Company’ Walking down to the oyster beds, the Mountains of Mourne loomed high ahead of us, and it struck me that it was not difficult to see why the author C.S Lewis drew his inspiration for the land of Narnia, in the children’s classic ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, from this landscape.

Row after row of oyster beds were ranged before us, draped in seaweed with bags of oysters nestled on top. The water coming down from the mountains brings various nutrients and minerals from rocks and heathers and deposits these in the Lough. This in turn gives the Carlingford oysters their own unique taste. These bicuspids take three to five years to grow and each oyster can filter over 55 litres of water a day.

It was time for us to shuck our own oysters. These calcified shells are stubborn and a firm hand, a sharp knife and of course that all important know how is needed to release the hinge. One by one we shucked and failed, shucked and failed. Then finally, success, my knife released the lock revealing the fleshy interior of this sweet mollusc. I quickly slid it in my mouth and immediately tasted the combination of sweet and salty. Perhaps it was the mountain heathers that contributed to this sweet flavour. The salty sea spray had misted our faces leaving our skin soft and refreshed. We were ready to return to Ghan House where we would now cook with these oysters.

The afternoon was spent peeling, dicing, chopping, slicing, boiling, sautéeing and mixing. Much laughter could be heard from our group. Some cried while chopping onions, others learned that the metric system is used in Ireland as the Imperial system is used in the USA and therefore it is quite important to know this when baking!

We dined together in the old dining room. It truly was a feast for the eyes. The fruits of our labour, plates of Oysters Rockefeller, bowls of heaped mussels, freshly baked soda breads, poached salmon, white bean salad, freshly churned butter, sautéed mushrooms, shortbreads and summer fruits were arranged for us in such a way that we offered each other glorious praise indeed.What an invigorating day we had experienced. And this was only the first day of our Irish Culinary Adventure.



Rachel Gaffney's Real Ireland


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Email: Rachel@Rachelgaffneys.com

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