Ballymaloe Day 37: Full-time forager!

I sucked in the oyster with a breath that could knock out the whole of Ireland and savoured the flesh that slipped into my tummy.

After starting out my day in a lazy fashion, I could have never predicted that I would be ending the working day with glorious, fresh, seafood.

A roast chicken and a mushroom dish sat firmly on my list of things to-do, but you wouldn’t realise that had you seen me making white soda bread and scones with gusto (see above photo!)

Frightfully calm, 11.30am came and went, and with my chicken not yet cooked, I started making paper piping bags – maybe to ease my nerves, or sheath my denial.

Eventually, I began to battle with the cooked chicken carcass and as I attempted to swivel my filleting knife up and down I realised that I glumly failing at what I normally enjoy.

What felt like years later, I finally got to the stage where I was able to clean up and I felt so bad for Emer who had to hang around and watch me suffer! It just seemed to be one of those days.

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(My soda scones – bit overcooked but the right texture apparently!)

Demo today was all about seafood and with oysters, clams, mussels, periwinkles and crevettes spilling onto the table in front of Darina, my eyes nearly fell out of my sockets.

Mam and I are seafood addicts back in Kerry, and we love heading to the beach for a quick walk and forage.

Darina pointed out that some people around Ireland are “full-time foragers” and supply restaurants with wild ingredients and I marvelled at the thought!

Emer popped in to give us a crash course in foraging seaweed on the shores in Shanagarry and I would have loved if we had been able to head out and see everything on the strand.

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“Oysters are an aphrodisiac”, Darina mused, “so watch out!”

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(Me and my oyster)

Topping off the day I headed to a Slow Food Ireland event with Helen Hume – who I mentioned on the blog before! Helen is a student here and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to tea.

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Slow Food doesn’t as its name suggests have to do with slow food cooking, but in fact, is a movement aimed at promoting sustainable and wild food.

Helen, as I said before, is wonderfully personable and as she gave an in-depth talk about tea from leaf to cup, I couldn’t help but feel great admiration for her! (While at Tetley’s, she tasted approximately 250,000 teas).

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Sadly, due to my caffeine intolerance (I haven’t been able to drink tea or coffee properly since 2011), I couldn’t taste any of the teas but my eyes and nose helped me along.

I used to drink about five cups of coffee a day but then I got ferocious headaches. The only teas I can drink are herbal – including green, as the level of caffeine is much lower.

Tomorrow in preparation for our Friday exams, there’s to be a 7.30am gardening class where Haulie will be going through herbs and salads – so more than likely he’ll be seeing his biggest turnout yet!

A little note that’s not related to food: I mentioned this on my Facebook page but there’s a mental health campaign that I’m co-fronting at the moment called “Little Things”.

Airing across Irish channels, Channel 4 and Sky, it’s something that I’m honoured to be a part of. I’ve been living with depression and anxiety since 2009. You can see the campaign video below.

Update 2024: Hello past me! In the video, I call myself ‘Úna’ but this was at a time when I was uncomfortable with calling myself Úna-Minh as it felt too confusing for folks. But now I totally embrace my first name. My name is Úna-Minh!

Some random things I learned today:

  • You know the leaves at the bottom of cauliflower and broccoli? Don’t throw them out! If they’re clean you can steam them and they’re delicious!
  • There are about 400 varieties of seaweed on the Irish coast so don’t be surprised if you don’t know them all.
  • Seaweed won’t poison you – some may be tougher than others but ultimately it’s all edible.
  • You can use sugar kelp (seaweed), to replace some sugars in your food.
  • “Wrack” is the overall term for types of seaweed.
  • The best seaweed to forage is below the tide line, otherwise it’ll go off much more quickly.
  • You can throw your bananas in the freezer if you have too many – they’ll then darken and be perfect for banana bread!
  • Tea grows from sea level up to approximately 7,500 ft.
  • Basically there are four types of tea: black, green, white and oolong.
  • 80 – 90% of tea is plucked by women and their aim is pluck two leaves and a bud because they’re the freshest.

Next: Ballymaloe Day 38

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