A Cooks Garden

iDSC_0561Everything comes full circle and at the start of 2016, after many years of living and working abroad as a chef, I found myself back living in Ireland next door to where I had been raised. DSC_0565Growing up here, most people had a little back yard plot and my family was no exception. My grandmother lived up the street and that was where my first experiences in tending a garden began. And everywhere I have lived since, I have tried to maintain a garden. IMG_20160217_082815 I remember the gentleman who owned this house and garden. He was quite prolific and meticulous. Had he been here now to see its current state, he would have been very upset to see the neglect. As you can see, its a jungle and over the years people had used the space as a dumping ground for domestic waste. Beer cans, broken bottles, rusty nails, plastic bags, plastic containers, carpeting, bones leftover from someones many dinners, bottle caps and the list goes on. IMG_20160217_082740 I decided to clean it all up and try to restore the garden to its former glory. It was an enormous undertaking and one that would eventually take me over two months of work.IMG_20160308_171422 It certainly seemed daunting and it was difficult to figure out where to begin because it was so overgrown with small trees, shrubs, brambles, ivy and weeds.DSC_0624 During the process of clearing out the space, I accumulated all of this debris and garden waste. There was more than just one of these piles and it all had to go. IMG_20160316_181621These steps were excavated. I had forgotten about them but here they were, unwalked on for decades. The garden path, so to speak.IMG_20160313_164009 I wanted a blank canvas for myself before I could even think of planting anything. Thus far, the only tools I had available to me were an axe, a saw, a pair of secateurs and gardening gloves. At this point, I was very encouraged. I knew that after years of neglect, I had the next best thing to virgin soil. But nothing is that easy.IMG_20160417_164932 As above, so below. Once the work above the ground was completed, the next task was to begin digging to see what the soil actually looked like. Be careful what you wish for, in this case, because I noticed all of these roots. It is a weed that spreads underground and if left unchecked can take over a garden. Which it did. It sends up a shoot that grows by binding itself around another plant and basically chokes it. They are very prolific and can grow fast. I declared war on it. IMG_20160321_183220I dug up kilometers of this chokeweed by hand using a shovel only. No chemical sprays were used as I believe in the principles of organic gardening. One thing that I noticed as I was digging the garden was that there were no earthworms. That would have to be rectified and I placed that idea on my priority list as well as a composting bin.IMG_20160723_190742 The organic gardening principles and philosophy that I adhere are simple. In addition to to composting and allowing earthworms perform their magic, I also use a four year crop rotation plan, heirloom or antique seeds, save seeds, companion plant, and employ a basic approach to bio-dynamic and lunar gardening aspects. The goals are to have a simple kitchen garden to supplement my cooking ideas, a garden that is sustainable and one that welcomes pollinators.  IMG_20160608_163455 The four year crop rotation plan includes legumes, alliums, roots and brassicas with room to plant a little extra for self satisfaction as well as the herbs I enjoy using in the kitchen. For the year round cool weather climate that is experienced in Ireland, there is plenty of scope to grow. And eat. Eat like a peasant.IMG_20160716_171806.jpg

 

 

 

Advertisements

Raw State

048

I decided to leave Portugal behind me late in 2015 and in December, I returned to Ireland to my hometown. After relocating, I found myself living in a house with a garden that had been neglected for many years. Once upon a time it had been a thriving garden. I had a connection for this particular “terra” and early in February (Spring, according to the ancient Irish calendar), I felt that this garden space needed a little bit of attention.

055

It was a daunting task. It was unclear how to proceed because of the state of the space was so far gone. When I started blogging the initial premise of thewayofthecook was the theme of from seed to table. I thought that I could use this space to continue that theme. But there was a lot of hard, grunt work ahead of me. All the gardens that I have worked in were always ready to plant. Not so, in this case. So I began to clear it. Inch by inch, square foot by square foot. 

069

It took me six weeks to get this far and this is just above the ground. The space measures about 1,100 square feet but I am only going to use about 800. And everything had to go, rocks, bottles, domestic refuse and that was only above the ground. 

124

And this is how the kitchen garden looks three months later. May 1st is tomorrow. The list of flowers to attract pollinators includes bluebells, aquilegia, honeysuckle, lavendar, roses, sunflowers, foxgloves, borage and morning glorys. The list of herbs and leaves includes parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, tarragon, bay, wild fennel, arugala, mesclun and red oak leaf lettuce. The list of fruits includes cherry tomatoes, gooseberries, strawberries and rhubarb. There is also peas, fava beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, scallions, shallots and red onions. Later I hope to put in beans, swiss chard, beets, turnips, radishes and celery root. If space permits. All has been done with organic and bio-dynamic methods. I hope to return to blogging with the seed to table theme. Eat like a peasant.

Celtic Fire Festival.

IMG_2294

Of the four major Celtic fire festivals in Ireland, Samhain or ,more contemporary, Hallow’een, is the largest and most widely known. In other cultures, this is the Feast of the Dead. Or All Souls.

IMG_0311

Characteristic to Irish country cooking is the use of a three-legged cauldron sitting over a fire which was kept going all day. Coastal cooking traditions varied from inland towns and districts. The idea was the same, however, and that was to feed hungry peasants. I am using a three -legged grill with fire.

IMG_0648

In the old Celtic calendar, Samhain marked the end of harvest and summer as well as the beginning of Winter or the “dark time” of the year. It was also a time of transition marked by the changing of the seasons and weather.

IMG_0804

On land, these seasonal changes forced herdsmen to bring their cattle back down from summer mountain pastures. A procedure known as transhumance. Cheeses would have already been made, perhaps to age in a blanket of sea-weed. Pigs or wild boar from the woods would have been killed and cured at this time. The process of preserving meat by curing with sea-salt was introduced by the Celts into Europe. It was also the time of year to “pit” potatoes for winter storage. Guinness goes great with sea salt. Wash your next oyster down with it.

IMG_1073

In coastal areas, seafood would have been preserved also. There would not have been many opportunities for off shore fishing during winter. So the techniques of smoking, brining and salting fish would have been common. I wonder if it was the Basque fishermen  who introduced salting to Ireland. Nowadays, there is a small cottage industry of sea-salt harvesting in west Cork on the Beara Peninsula, the most south westerly point on the island. The most famous mussels in the known universe come from Bantry in that same neck of the woods.

IMG_1141

Indeed, any opportunities for fishing would have been limited at this time of the year to sheltered coastal inlets and river estuaries. The changing of the season also influenced what species of fish were available to coastal peasants. Seasonal fish like John Dory or Saint Pierre migrated to warmer water. Other ocean swimming fish like some species of shark moved into shallower water. The rocky coastline provided shelter for rock fish like bass and codling and other flat fish like turbot and flounder. There was also plenty of oysters and rock lobster, cockles and mussels too.

IMG_0813

Another source of protein for coastal people was the availability of sea-gulls eggs on sheer cliff faces.. This was a risky business. You did’nt want the Feast of the Dead to be all about you and the crabs.

IMG_0654

Written records begin in Ireland in the 5th century of the Common Era with the arrival of Christianity. Samhain predates Christianity with its roots going back to the arrival of the Celts in Ireland around the 5th century BCE. Fire was an important part of Samhain used in rituals for protection and cleansing. But bonfires can be traced back even further in Irish mythology. Nowadays, the tradition of lighting bonfires at Hallow’een is not so prevalent as it once was.

005

Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

IMG_0070

Just about says it all.

IMG_2078

The Haunted Pumpkin ………….out soon in hard-cover.