Savour your meals with Ireland’s slow food movement
Slow Food Ireland envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet
To the south of Glendalough in the belly of Co Wicklow lies Macreddin Village, home to Ireland’s first certified organic restaurant, The Strawberry Tree. The restaurant is part of Brooklodge Hotel and Spa, while Macreddin Village also boasts a well-stocked pantry store, the Orchard Cafe, a cozy pub and an Italian trattoria.
It’s also home to arguably the happiest hens in Ireland, beautifully plump birds who wander free around the grounds of the hotel. On the second weekend of November, Macreddin Village plays host to the biennial Wild & Slow Food Festival
“The Wild & Slow food festival came about at about 1am in the morning over a glass of red wine at Ballymaloe,” chef Evan Doyle, founder of The Strawberry Tree and proprietor of Brooklodge, Slow Food Ireland and Taste Council member, tells me. “It was myself, Jocelyn Doyle, Aisling Nic Craith, Biddy White Lennon and Ed Hick, all members of Slow Food in Wicklow, and we wanted to do something to highlight wild foods.”
This was back in 2009. The inaugural Wild & Slow took place at Macreddin Village in 2011, and it has been a biennial event since 2012.
In 1986, three decades before that fortuitous late-night chat, Italian political activist and journalist Carlo Petrini joined a diverse group of protestors near the Spanish Steps in Rome to challenge the opening of Italy’s first McDonald’s on the Piazza di Spagna. It’s said that Petrini passed out plates of penne to protestors who, according to Slow Food USA shouted “We don’t want fast food... we want slow food!”
Three years later, on December 10th 1989, the Slow Food Manifesto, co-written by Petrini and Slow Food co-founder Folco Portinari, was endorsed by delegates from 15 countries. The original manifesto claimed that “we are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life... Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavours and savours of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.” Today there are more than 1,500 convivia, or local chapters, around the world, including in Ireland.
Back in 1996, Darina Allen (at the Wild&Slow festival, above) of Ballymaloe was giving an acceptance speech to the Premio Langhe Ceretto in Italy who had awarded her book Irish Traditional Cooking the SEI prize for food and wine culture. In her speech, she warned the audience about the impact of EU regulations on local food cultures, using Ireland as an example.
As Allen lays out in an engaging account of Slow Food Ireland’s history , someone came up to her after her speech and told her her should set up a Slow Food Ireland chapter because her speech had summed up the organisation’s philosophy.
In the summer of 1998, Gianna Ferguson of Gubbeen Cheese officially launched Slow Food Ireland in Schull, West Cork, alongside Allen, fish-smoker Sally Barnes, cheesemaker Bill Hogan, baker Adel O’Connor and Toby Simmonds of The Real Olive Company. Allen set up the East Cork Slow Food Convivium in 1999, and today there are local Slow Food groups representing Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow and Dublin.
Their core ethos is that food is good, clean and fair. According to Slow Food Ireland’s website, the organisation “envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.” Have a look at www.slowfoodireland.com to find out how you can become a member.
On Sunday November 13th 2016, Julie and Rod Calder-Potts of Highbank Orchards were among the stallholders at an outdoor pop-up market, where they launched the latest offering from their Kilkenny orchard, a delicious organic balsamic cider vinegar with wild mother. At Jane’s Bees stall, I got a taste of their gorgeous range of honeys, including their soft set Ivy honey and Wild Irish Heather honey, harvested from native Irish bees at their six apiary sites in West Wicklow and South Kildare. Wild Irish Game were at Wild & Slow with their wild pheasants and wild rabbits, while The Strawberry Tree’s Pantry are selling their hedgerow cordials and wild garlic pesto.
The Wild & Slow festival included workshops, priced at just €4 each, with chefs such as JP McMahon, Catherine Fulvio, Derry Clarke, Ross Lewis and Strawberry Tree Head Chef James Kavanagh extolling the virtues of wild, slow food and getting back to basics. Among the host of Saturday and Sunday workshops, Doyle, Ed Hick and Valerie O’Toole from Slow Food Ireland talked about food that was available for free, where to look for it and the optimum time for harvesting it, while local mushroom man Bill O’Dea talked about the top 10 edible wild Irish mushroom.
Another of the stallholders at Wild & Slow were the local Avondale Community College, whose students were selling their crab-apple syrup. It was their third time at Wild & Slow, and the Bray Institute of Further Education were also stallholders. “Wild & Slow is not only a celebration of our wild food and game, b5ut it’s also about education and highlighting that food should be sustainable,” says Doyle.