Summer's End - Year's Beginning

So, it’s the end of the long summer holidays and back to school – which may sound a little sad, but the start of the new academic year is always an exciting time. It’s also a magical time for gardeners, who have the reward of harvesting (and eating) many of the crops grown this year - and the pleasure of plotting and planning for next season, as the endless cycle begins again. And, if we want our children to be healthy and happy, understand about good food and enjoy it (and life), we need to see more food grown in the place where they all spend so much time - schools.

Edible Schoolyard by Alice WatersFor inspiration and information on ‘Edible Education’ there’s no better place to look than to Alice Waters (of the iconic ‘Chez Panisse’ restaurant in Berkeley, California) who started the Edible Schoolyard movement well over a decade ago by ‘turning over long-abandoned soil at an urban middle school’ in the town. Her book Edible Schoolyard – A Universal Idea (Chronicle Books , hardback; £9.89 from will be an inspiration to every parent and teacher who is aware that children need to know about good food. And, when it comes to the social benefits of such a system, the sky’s the limit.

The basic principles of ‘Edible Education’ are:

• Food is an Academic Subject
• Schools Provide Lunch for Every Child
• Schools Support Farms
• Children Learn by Doing
• Beauty is a Language

The children not only grow food crops in the school garden, but prepare and cook the produce as an integral (and complementary) part of their school curriculum, share it with other students and teachers - and tidy up afterwards!

Edible EducationStudents cook in groups of ten, using recipes designed to ‘introduce them to a variety of foods and keep many hands busy, working side by side with the pleasant tasks of chopping, mincing, peeling, shelling, measuring, mixing, and, of course, tasting.’ Everything they do is, by definition, seasonal – and the dishes cooked include some very familiar to children here, such as Potato Smash with Kale (sounds very like colcannon to me!)

We’re a long way behind in Ireland, of course, but fair play to Agri Aware and their Incredible Edibles Growing Challenge initiative, which sees a special kit containing growing bags, fruit and vegetable seeds, compost and educational resources landing on the doorstep of every primary school nationwide (almost 4,000).

It’s a follow-on from last year’s successful potato growing project, and Minister for Food, Trevor Sargent, is very supportive– an avid gardener himself, he even has his own website ‘intended for beginners who want to grow their own food, but just don’t know how to get started’.

Waterford Harvest FestivalOn a similar tack, ‘Grow your way out of the recession’ is one of the themes at this year’s Waterford Harvest Festival (11-13 September), hosted by Slow Food Ireland and Waterford City Council (loads of great events including a farmers’ market, 10am-4pm on Sunday 13th September). Especially interesting is the launch of GroMichael Kellyw It Yourself (GIY) Ireland, a national not-for-profit organisation established by journalist and author Michael “Trading Places”, which aims to inspire people to grow their own food and give them the skills they need to do so successfully.

Michael Kelly is also mad about hens, saying “it’s perfectly feasible to keep a couple of hens in an urban or suburban garden and enjoy perfect, healthy, organic eggs for years to come”. Although keeping hens in back gardens is not perhaps universally appropriate, he’s the man to tell you how to get started if it appeals to you.

Darina AllenGIY is something that anybody can do without fear of annoying the neighbours however, and the organisation has the support of Darina Allen, who will talk about the “lost art” of growing your own food at the launch of GIY Ireland on September 12th. “Getting people together in a GIY group is a brilliant idea,” she says. “It gives them a sense of camaraderie and shared experience in the joy of vegetable growing. But it also gives them the skills they need to grow successfully. Having a GIY group in every town in Ireland would mean that anyone who wants to grow their own will have a place to go where they can meet like-minded people and learn from them. That will be invaluable.”

Speakers at the GIY Ireland launch which takes place in Waterford Institute of Technology on Saturday September 12 will include Joy Larkcom, Trevor Sargent, Darina Allen, Michael Kelly and Will Sutherland. There will also be a demonstration on cooking with sustainable fish by Fresh From the Sea author Clodagh McKenna and talks on allotments, community gardens, nutrition, seed-saving and permaculture.

Tickets which cost €35 include a seasonal dinner and are available to buy from


RatatouilleLate summer and early autumn is the perfect time of year to make this classic dish, when the ingredients are at the height of their natural season and full of flavour. It makes a great side dish with any simply cooked meat, poultry or fish, or can be served with crusty bread as a starter; although best served fresh it is also a useful way to deal with an over-supply of any of the ingredients (courgettes are most likely) as it can be frozen. Peperonata, a simpler cousin of ratatouille, is made without aubergines.

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Potato & Bean Salad with Bacon

Potato & Bean Salad with Bacon If cooked carefully to prevent them breaking up, new season Queens (many of which come from North County Dublin, eg Rush/Skerries) can be used for this delicious little dish, and they have great flavour; then later, when that great all-rounder the Rooster comes on stream, that will do nicely.

French or runner beans are perfect – and the blanching process given here is also essential for freezing beans successfully, useful to know if you have to deal with a glut. Whether served warm or cold, it’s a great salad and can be served as a light main course or, with or without the bacon, as a starter.

Vegetarians could try replacing the bacon with cubes of an interesting farmhouse cheese – Mossfield organic, for example, a mature gouda made near Birr, Co Offaly; I picked some up at Peter Ward’s Country Choice shop in Nenagh last week, along with some local tomatoes and home-baked breads, and it’s only gorgeous.

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Grilled Vegetables With Mozzarella Grilled Vegetables With Mozzarella

An easy-peasy dish that uses much the same ingredients as ratatouille but also cherry tomatoes – ideal if you grow your own out of doors, as you’ll probably have masses of them at the moment – and it’s much quicker: just the job to serve with plenty of crusty bread for a colourful meal-in-a-hurry.

Grilling is suggested here, but if you have a range type cooker such as an Aga or Waterford Stanley, simply pop the oiled vegetables into the hot oven and they’ll ‘grill’ in a few minutes, allowing excess moisture in the vegetables to evaporate. Gorgeous fast food - for older children coming in hungry from school, perhaps; teenagers might like to make it themselves.

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Paul Flynn's Baked Pears with Gingerbread and CreamPaul Flynn's Baked Pears with Gingerbread and Cream

Waterford is a very foodie destination these days, with the Waterford Harvest Festival on next weekend and, down the road in Dungarvan, Paul Flynn of The Tannery Restaurant & Cookery School (multi-award-winning at the recent Food & Wine Magazine Restaurant of the Year Awards, bagging Best Munster Chef & Restaurant among others) is a great supporter of the best seasonal local ingredients - and now proud owner of the Glanbia Garden.

Formerly derelict land behind the cookery school, it’s been cultivated with support from Glanbia, to supply home-grown produce for the cookery school and the restaurant. With Irish pears in season now, it’s perfect timing for this simply scrumptious autumnal dessert from Paul’s book Second Helpings (Collins Press, €30, hardback).

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