Sluichean is an Irish name for seagrass that is harvested on the Atlantic coastline from Christmas to May. It is high in iron, calcium, folic acid, fiber, essential fatty acids and vitamins A,E,K and B complex and has been an important source of nutrition for the Irish through the centuries. I drove down to Creegh and Bridget and I put on or wellies, packed the truck with buckets and headed to a gorgeous stretch of beach. It turned out to be another sunny spring day but the wind was kicking up so we bundled up and made our way across the glistening rocks. The beach, from the rough blue sea to the pure white rocks at the border of the high tides, is a panorama of color in low tide. White sand, an array of rocks from small pebbles to huge boulders, covered with plant and fish life all shimmered in the sun. We headed for the middle stretch of rocks, covered with a shiney surface of sluichean. To pick you grab a handle from the bottom of the rock, which is usually sitting in a little pool of water, and peel gently back. You have to avoid pulling the green algea which sits underneath it and and from gathering too much with a lot of sand on it. There were a couple of lads gathering who told us the best way to harvest is to rinse the sluichean in the little pools because rinsing in the seawater makes the finished product taste better. In an hour and a half we collected 2 buckets. It’s a lot of stretching! I took a small bag home thinking that it wouldn’t go far and I just want to experiment cooking with it anyway. To my surprise, when I washed it, it expanded to about 5x the volume! It took 5 washings to rid it of all the sand. Here’s the recipe I came up with for Sluichean Soup, gluten and dairy free.
Put washed sluichean into a big soup pot and put it on a low boil for an hour. As it boiled, it shrunk but still I had loads to work with. After the first hour, it was wilting and getting mushy so I added 1 chopped whole leek (whites and greens), 2 cloves garlic, a dozen small chopped button mushrooms, 4 large chopped carrots and 4 large chopped potatoes. Sprinkle in cracked pepper and it’s done. I brought it to a friends house for dinner and the 4 of us were amazed at how delicate and tasty it was. No herbs, no stock, just the seaweed and vegetables. A perfect soup, simple, great tasting and highly nutritious. After speaking with some folks about this, I was told that it can also be dried and consumed that way. So, that’s for the next picking! A gardening experience of another kind in Eire!
Pictures: one of the lads, Bridget with the sea in the background, me collecting from the bottom of the rock, white rocks at high tide marker, sluichean on the rocks, sluichean when cooked, a bowl of sluichean vegetable soup.
The nex 2 saturdays I will be doing cookery demos. Tomorrow at 11:30 and 2:30 I will be at Alcock and Brown in Clifden for the annual Health Fair sponsored by An Bhean Faesa Health Shop. On saturday, March 28th at 3:00 pm I will be at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin. Check out the Feel Good section of the Irish Examiner today for a notice of this one! The demos are fun and informative. I cook 3 recipes from Coming Home To Cook talk about the ingredients, nutritional properties and there’s lots of tastings.
Sorrel is a common wild plant that grows in fields in Ireland. There are several different varieties. Terry Dunne has a bumper crop of sheep’s sorrel behind his cultivated gardens and I bet if you look around you’ll find this or clover sorrel (small leaves that look like a 4 leaf clover),close to home. A fresh picked leaf tasted salty and tart and a salad of mixed greens with a lemon infusion came to mind. Young spring sorrel is best used raw and summer sorrel is good in soup, stew, cream sauce and steamed as you would spinach and chard. It is high in Vitamin A and C, potassium, calcium and magnesium and is a natural laxative (if eaten in large quantities). Here’s a recipe for sorrel cream sauce. Wash and dry 4 packed cups of sorrel leaves Coarsely chop the leaves and sute in 3 Tbl. butter until completely wilted. Into 1 cup of hot vegetable stock add 1 cup of light cream or creme fraiche. Boil until sauce begins to thicken, add 1 TBl. of plain white flour, sea salt & cracked black pepper to taste, sorrel leaves and cook until thick. This sauce is lovely over blanched fresh garden vegetables, for use in cream soups or over the savory dinner loaf from Coming Home To Cook for a delicious dinner entree.
I spent the Paddy’s Day weekend at the beach in Wexford. This part of Ireland is known as the sunny southeast and it certainly was with 4 days of blue skies and warm temperatures. The sea, the green fields and meadows all sparkled capturing a special spring awakening. The highlight of the weekend was a visit to Terry Dunne’s beautiful home in Duncormick. Terry is a weaver and master gardener who creates extraordinary tapestries and sculptures, using many plants that he grows. But, to just say that about this gracious and talented Irish man is not enough. What really amazed me is how much he has created in the last six years. It was then that Terry bought this abandoned stone cottage that had weeds growing up from the earthen floors. He went to work moving out the spirits (!), rethatching the roof and renovating it into a home that is warm, cozy, inviting and near perfection in it’s decor, artwork and ambiance. But, that’s just the house. He added on a light filled studio for his weaving and went to work on the gardens, creating a masterpiece of wild and native plants, a vegetable and herb garden, a rainbow of colorful flowers, trees and shrubs. He planted a celtic circle around which he grows willows that he uses in his artwork. My companions had the job of cutting the “sallys”, the willow branches, while I roamed around taking pictures of this little piece of heaven. The sallys will be used in a course he is giving on living structures, such as igloos, archways, and fences. The pictures are from left to right: a view of the cottage with cut willows in the foreground, notice the variety of color in them. Terry the weaver at his loom. Yarn used in his weaving. Ivy on the shed window. Bog Myrtle in the shed. The patio with the original cottage and studio to the left of it. The beginnings of the vegetable garden: corn salad and pak choy. Hearts ease also known as goldlace primula. Species tulip. It was one of those days that serves as an inspiration for one’s own creativity and to experience what nature has to give to us. When I make a few extra bob I’m buying one of his turf baskets. Beautiful! The next posting is on wild sorrel which his back fields are full of! check out Terry’s website at www.terrytheweaver.com
Mark your calendars for May 15-17, the annual Burren Food Festival sponsored by Slow Food Clare. The lineup this year is full of fun, interesting and informative activities and events for all ages. I will be doing a vegetarian cookery demonstration on Sunday in the Pavilion. I will be giving updates and information as the date approaches and go to websites listed above for info on Slow Food. Sona ag cocaireacht! Happy Eating!
Warm brown bread right out of the oven, with Irish butter and a proper cup of tea with fresh cows milk, what could be a better way to start the day? Joan’s homecooking is one of the many reasons I love visiting the farm in Cork. When asked for her recipe she gave it to me in “saucerfuls”. So, after watching carefully I broke it down to this:
4 cups wholemeal and 2 cups plain white flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 Tbl. bread soda, 1 Tbl. brown sugar, 8 Tbl. cold butter, 2 1/2 to 3 cups whole milk or buttermilk. Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in cold butter until crumbly. Pour in milk until all is well blended. Form into a round loaf, cut a cross into the middle and place on a greased flat pan. Bake in a 180 or 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Eat hot with lots of butter!