The Darina Allen Column - A Few Days in Wales

A Welsh farm we visited this summer is an example of what, in an ideal world, all farms could be - rich mixed pastures, abundant hedgerows filled with birdsong and wildlife, a pond teaming with fish and pollinating insects. A striking example of farming with nature.

We recently went on an expedition to West Wales to celebrate a special farm anniversary. Our friend Patrick Holden, a pioneer of the modern, sustainable food movement has been managing his Bwlchwernen Fawr Farm close to Lampeter organically for over 50 years. Patrick, formerly head of the Soil Association and most recently founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust, is one of the great renaissance men. He and his lovely wife Becky now make the multi award-winning organic Hafod Cheddar cheese (pronounced HAVOD), which has a well deserved following, from the rich milk of their herd of Ayrshire cows.

The farm is an example of what, in an ideal world, all farms could be, rich mixed pastures, abundant hedgerows filled with birdsong and wildlife, a pond teaming with fish and pollinating insects. A striking example of farming with nature.

We found ourselves in an incredible gathering of inspirational people all of whom were passionate about food and farming. The weekend was spent discussing soil health, sustainable landscapes biodiversity, and the future of farming and the planet, interspersed with dancing and feasting and wonderful music....

Vandana Shiva, the Indian environmentalist, who when asked if it was too late to save the planet at a Soil Association conference a number of years ago, famously and sagely replied, 'The planet will be fine without us'.

Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project in Cornwall was also at the gathering and wondered why destroying life in the soil, poisoning the water and the air for future generations, is not looked on as treason.
Organic farming ticks all the boxes, producing nutrient dense sustainable food that nourishes and healthy biodiverse landscapes and environments. It can lock up carbon from the atmosphere and thus, we fervently hope, stave off the climate change which has recently been creating record temperatures across Europe, US, Africa and China.

Here in Ireland, less than 2% of land is farmed organically with a government target of 7.5% by 2027. The recent EU incentives coupled by the rising cost of fertiliser, pesticide and herbicides are encouraging others to join the ranks, attracted by the rate of payment in the new Organic Farming Scheme. The hope is that that figure will have risen to 4% by 2030 still way off the Eu target of 25% by 2050.

Wales is so easy to reach by ferry and so beautiful. We stayed on for a few extra days to meander through the narrow Welsh lanes edged with Queen Anne's lace, lots of willow herb, loosestrife and Himalayan balsam and stayed in the Harbourmaster Hotel in the little fishing village of Aberaeron, home to a second branch of one of my favourite food shops, Watson and Pratt. Put that name on your 'must do' Welsh list. There is also a branch of this superb organic grocery in Lampeter, rather incongruously tucked into an industrial estate.

Wright's Food Emporium, a former Georgian pub in the village of Llanarthney in Carmarthen is also worth a detour, a magnet for good food lovers. Another independent food shop and café, stuffed to the ceiling with delicious food, natural wines and other good things...

There we found my favourite bitter Seville Orange Marmalade Coedcanlas No 3 made by Nick and Annette Tonkin in the remote Daugleddau estuary in West Wales. The marmalade is made with bitter Sicilian oranges, the hand cut peel is gently cooked in large copper pans sweetened with honey from their own bees and is exceptionally delicious. That's coming from someone who makes hundreds of pots of marmalade of her own every year.

Lots of other temptations on the shelves at Wright's include superb canned fish – anchovies, sardines and Arroyabe tuna.

On our way back to the ferry, we also swung by Caws Teifi organic farm in Ceredigion to catch up with Rob Savage who recently attended a natural cheese making course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. He and his family make a whole range of multi-award winning cheeses from raw milk on their farm. Another brother established the Dà Mhìle distillery in other farm buildings across the farmyard, producing organic gin and whiskey...such an innovative family.

Well stocked up with their artisan cheese plus a bottle of whisky, we made our way to Newport to a food truck they had recommended called Pasta A Mano. You need to know about this when visiting Wales – it's quite a find, parked close to the water's edge with stunning views over the little bay. This tiny trailer has a cult following for its freshly made pasta and some of the best cannoli this side of Sicily, not much more than two hours from Fishguard.

A tasty example of the classic favourite, this quiche is perfect for a casual lunch or supper – and a wedge packed with salad would make a lovely lunch box too. If you are a beginner, perhaps you may want to use 175g flour to 75g butter to allow a little more pastry to work with. The hand-made method is given here, or you can use a food processor (as in Rory O’Connell’s tartlets, below). Serves about 6.

Shortcrust Pastry
110g plain white flour
pinch of salt
50g butter
1 egg, preferably free-range and a few drops of water to bind, 2-3 tablespoons of liquid approx.
110g rindless streaky rashers (slightly smoked if available)
1 tbsp olive or sunflower oil
110g chopped onion
1 tbsp olive oil
110g sliced mushrooms
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk, preferably free-range
300ml cream or 175ml cream and 110ml milk
1 tbsp chopped chives
75g freshly grated Hafod or other aged Cheddar cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper
flan ring or deep quiche tin, 19cm diameter x 3cm high
First make the shortcrust pastry.
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible, if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.
Whisk the egg and add the water. Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven.
The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, 'shorter' crust. Cover and rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Line a flan ring or quiche tin with the pastry and bake blind in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/Gas Mark 4, for 20-25 minutes.
Cut the bacon into 1cm lardons. Place in a saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil, drain and dry on kitchen paper.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and crisp off the bacon, remove to a plate. Reduce the heat and sweat the onions gently in the oil and bacon fat, cover and cook on a low heat for 8-10 minutes. Cool.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan, add the mushrooms, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until tender.
Whisk the eggs, add the cream (or cream and milk), chives, grated cheese, sautéed mushrooms, bacon and onions. Season, fry off a little on a pan to taste. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake in a moderate oven for 30-40 minutes or until the centre is just set and the top golden.
Serve warm with a green salad.

Many people are convinced that making a soufflé is far beyond them, not a bit of it. If you can master a white sauce, whisk egg whites stiffly into a fluffy mass and fold them gently, then you can make a soufflé that will draw gasps of admiration from your family and friends. Cheddar cheese soufflé doesn't rise to quite the heights of a Gruyère and Parmesan soufflé, but it is nonetheless a very tasty supper dish or a delicious starter. Serves 6-8

25g butter
2 tbsp flour
300ml milk
3 egg yolks, preferably free-range
4 egg whites, preferably free-range
1 level teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
175g Cheddar cheese, preferably Hafod when available
2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
600ml soufflé dish or 6-8 individual soufflé dishes

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and, when it has stopped foaming, add the flour and stir well. Cook gently for 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, whisk in the milk slowly, return to the heat and cook until the sauce boils and thickens. Remove from the heat once more and beat in the egg yolks one by one. Then add the salt, mustard, chives and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese (reserved to sprinkle over the top). * Whisk the egg whites until they reach a stiff peak. Stir about one third of the whites into the cheese mixture and fold in the remainder very carefully. Put into a buttered and crumbed soufflé dish or dishes.
Sprinkle grated cheese on top and bake in a preheated oven 200°C/Gas Mark 6, for 9-10 minutes for individual soufflés or 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for 25-30 minutes for a large soufflé. They should be well risen and golden on top yet slightly soft in the centre.
Serve immediately on hot plates.
• * Can be prepared ahead to this stage, but the base mixture must be warmed gently before egg whites are folded in.
• NOTE: Egg whites must not be whisked until you are about to cook the soufflé, otherwise they will lose volume.

This is not just a delicious recipe, it's an introduction to a brilliant technique for making tartlets – check out paragraph 3... You will need 12 individual tartlet tins or a tray of the same number, each measuring 6.5cm wide, 2cm deep or as close to that as is possible.
Makes 12 tartlets

12 "mit-cuit" prunes, stones removed
2 tbsp Irish whiskey
150g plain flour
25g caster sugar
10g icing sugar
80g cold butter, finely diced
2 tbsp beaten egg, approx.
Chocolate Ganache
100g chocolate, 60% cocoa solids
50ml cream
1 tbsp honey
To serve
6 tbsp softly whipped cream
unsweetened cocoa powder

Place the prunes in a small bowl with the whiskey, cover and allow to soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. The prunes will drink up most or all of the whiskey.
To make the pastry, place the flour, sugars and butter in a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until the butter resembles a fine crumb. Add in the egg and, again using the pulse button, just process the mixture until it is just starting to come together. Now, pour the mixture into a bowl and finish bringing the pastry together by hand. Knead briefly to achieve a smooth dough. Flatten the dough into a neat disc, approx. 2cm thick, and wrap in parchment paper. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and place on a flour-dusted counter. Leave it for 5 minutes before rolling it out to about 3mm thick. Using an 8cm cutter, stamp out 12 pieces out of the dough. Lay the pastry pieces over the upturned tartlet tray, making sure that they are neatly centred on the bases of the tray. There is no need to firm the pastry into place.
Chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
Place the tray of chilled tartlets in the oven and cook for approximately 12 minutes or until starting to look a pale hazelnut colour and completely cooked.
Place the tray on a cooling rack and allow to cool. As soon as the cases feel firm to the touch, remove from the trays and place on the cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the chocolate ganache, place the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl and place over a saucepan of cold water. The bottom of the Pyrex bowl should not be touching the water in the saucepan. Place the saucepan on the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and the chocolate will gradually finish melting in the heat remaining in the saucepan. When the chocolate is fully melted, allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
Place the cream and honey in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Add the cream to the chocolate in 3 separate increments using a small flexible rubber spatula. Each time you add the cream, stir vigorously with the tip of the spatula working from the centre of the bowl to the edge.
Divide the whiskey soaked prunes between the tartlets. Use the back of a teaspoon to smooth the prunes into place. Spoon the ganache over the prunes filling the shells to as close to the top as you dare.
Place the tartlets in a cool place or the fridge to allow the ganache to set.
When ready to serve, drape a dessertspoon of softly whipped cream over each tartlet and dust generously with cocoa powder.

Hot Tips

Templetouhy Café
Community cafés seem to be popping up all over the country. On a recent trip to Tipperary to visit a graveyard to commemorate the 100th anniversary of my maternal grandmother's passing, we greatly enjoyed a visit to the convivial Community Café in 'downtown' Moyne village, Tipperary called Tigh Maighne (open daily). For more information, see @tigh_maighne on Instagram

Kilanerin Food and Heritage Festival (16th-17th September 2023)
Rachel Allen will be giving an exciting cookery demonstration at Kilanerin Community Centre, Co Wexford, on Saturday, 16th September at 6.30pm (tickets €25 per person). For more information, check out @kilanerin_tidy_towns (Instagram) Tickets from

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