As Scarlett O’Hara once discovered, carrots pulled straight from the earth taste sweeter than the ones that sit for weeks in supermarkets.
Nowadays more and more consumers are getting turned on to what crusty old hippies have known for decades, that produce bought at the local farmers’ market surpasses anything store bought for both taste and value.
But before you envision a bunch of deadly dull back to nature types scolding you for your big city ways, along comes Clodagh McKenna with her impressively helpful Irish cookbook, "The Irish Farmers’ Market Cookbook" (Collins), taking the mystery out of the organic movement and showing you what to look for, where to find it and, better yet, how to cook it.
McKenna is a food columnist for Food and Wine Magazine, the Irish Examiner and the Sunday Tribune, so she knows her way around the semi-evangelical Irish organic food movement. Chic and cheerful, she’s an expert guide and she’ll explain the farmers’ market lingo until you’ve become a natural yourself.
What’s “free range” for example? Put simply, it refers to meat, poultry and game that has been allowed to roam outside, rather than raised in cramped containers. That already makes you feel a little better about cooking it, right?
“Organic” simply means the food has been produced without the use of chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or hormones.
Once you delve into McKenna’s marvelous new book you may want to start taking it with you when you go shopping. Farmers’ markets are always seasonal and helpfully McKenna takes account of this, offering recipes you can make at every time of the year. Her desire above all is to make you feel confident about what to ask for and when to ask for it.
The Irish don’t give themselves nearly enough recognition for the quality of their unforgettable breads. Really good breads are one of the most nutritionally balanced foods you can eat.
But not the supermarket stuff that sticks like glue to the roof of your mouth – McKenna means the artisan bread with a beautiful texture that’s baked with true skill and care.
Bread is as central to the Irish kitchen as tap water. In her book McKenna offers a series of increasingly delicious and easy to prepare recipes that will have your own kitchen filled with the irresistible fragrance of soda bread, short scones, rock buns and boxty pancakes.
Still not convinced? Consider this – two-thirds of the tomatoes consumed in Ireland are imported.
Now, imported tomatoes are picked while they are still green and artificially ripened using ethylene gas, hence the tough skin and the watery, flavorless interior. Why would you choose them when you can opt for local grown Irish tomatoes that can easily beat them in color, quality, texture and flavor?
The thing that any farmers’ market does almost imperceptibly is to put you back in touch with the seasons, or the passage of round time as the bard had it. It also puts you in touch with the actual farmers, so you know where your food is coming from and how it was produced. Above all, it means that you are eating food that it much better for you.
With more than 100 recipes that range from traditional Irish favorites to dishes that feature obvious European flair, McKenna’s book always emphasizes the seasonality of each offering.
As well as using ingredients available at the farmers’ market, even those who can't visit the Irish markets can still enjoy a taste of Ireland via McKenna’s accessible and easy made recipes.
From everyday cooking like fried mackerel or Cork beef stew, to more unusual offerings that reflect the wider range of produce available at farmers' markets, such as roast pheasant with apple and sweet geranium stew, there’s a dish here for the family table or a feast to dazzle the most exacting gourmets.
The photographs of each dish are as inviting as the recipes themselves. Having lived with this book for over a month, I can place my hand on my heart and say it’s the most indispensable cooking guide I’ve had the good fortune to discover this decade.
Just like Scarlett O’Hara, with a little help from this essential book, you need never go hungry again.