A Taste of West Cork 2017

Young Ambassadors for Gloun Cross Dairy

We have this incredible food festival down here – A Taste of West Cork. I wrote about it in 2014 in this post and in this one. This year it was bigger and better than ever, with an astounding variety of events to choose from. We signed up for something every day and we are now in recovery.

We started off with a Sunday brunch in Glansallagh Gardens, cooked by Chef Bob, in the tractor loft of our old friend Richard, who supplies fresh and delicious vegetables to many local restaurants. Five courses, long harvest tables, strangers from all over chatting amiably, swapping stories and laughter, and then weaving home past the guard geese to snooze away the rest of Sunday.

We love Durrus Cheese and jumped at the chance to attend a demonstration of how it’s made and a tasting. Everything is local, everything is done by hand, the taste comes from years of making and a passion for quality. It felt like a privilege to glimpse behind the scenes.

Sarah, second-generation cheese maker, explains the different processes that produce the Durrus cheeses

The Chestnut Tree was a beloved Ballydehob pub, but it’s been closed for years. Recently, however, it was revived as an Airbnb and during the Festival was re-purposed once again as a restaurant. It worked wonderfully well as a convivial space.

French chef, Antony Cointre, was a popular choice at the Chestnut Tree

We signed up for a Ramen Bowl menu and were not disappointed. Chef Brian from Belfast makes everything – everything – from scratch and showed us how he makes the noodles. To taste his broth is to truly understand the concept of umami.

Our dining partners were Jack and Julia Zagar. Julia is the genius behind the dynamic e-presence of Discover Schull – website, Facebook Page and Instagram account. Jack generously lends his own images to local initiatives

From the Casual, we graduated to the Gracious: dinner at Drishane House was sumptuous. Drishane is the ancestral home of Edith Somerville, now the residence of Tom and Jane Somerville. Jane is a wonderful cook and Tom a genial host, and our fellow guests were a lovely mix of local and from-away. We dined by candlelight surrounded by portraits of Somervilles, wine and conversation flowed, delicious courses kept appearing (all locally sourced as is the ethic of this Festival), and the port and cheese arrived just as we felt that truly an evening could hold no more enjoyment.

Drishane House in the spring, and a portrait of Edith Somerville in her role of Master of the Fox Hounds

By no means is this Festival only about dinners and chefs. We were attracted into Levis’s pub in the early afternoon by the sound of music and found a lively session in full swing – the end of a walking tour of Ballydehob that promised soup (made from vegetables from that morning’s tiny local market) and music as a restorative after the exertions of the walk. Soup was pressed upon us and we didn’t object.

Bob, Liam and Joe entertain the walkers, while Robert has fun with Johanna

Perhaps the most fun we had was also at Levis’s – it was called Sing for your Supper and the idea was to eat and sing, and whoever was judged to be the best singer would win their supper. It was an absolute hoot, with lots of good sports belting out old favourites (I personally led a version of Satisfaction that would curdle milk) and several excellent singers enthralling us all. The food was superb, prepared by an acknowledged top Irish chef, and local man, Rob Krawczyk

Thanks to Colm Rooney of the wonderful local web design agency Cruthu Creative for the photos of Sing for Your Supper. Ah sure, you can’t belt out the numbers and be snapping at the same time, now can you?

We bonded as a table – there were six of us, and we were thrilled to discover the identity of the youngest member. It was Eoin Warner, and if that name means nothing to you, it will one day. Eoin narrated the Irish version of Wild Ireland, Eire Fhiáin, shown to rapturous acclaim on the Irish TV channel. The photography was extraordinary and opened many of our eyes to the wildlife we have here. Forget David Attenborough and the Amazon Jungles – to see a humpback whale bubble-netting up close is to realise how rich the oceans around Ireland are. Here’s an extract from Eire Fhiáin, with Eoin’s lovely, natural, narration and his deep sense of wonder. And – he has a great voice and won the competition!

The photo is from an Independent article that nicely sums up audience reaction to the program

Yesterday we went on a Cultural Taste Tour of Bere Island. It was our first time and it’s no exaggeration to say that we fell in love with it. I won’t say much about it because Robert’s post will fill you in, but I CAN say that we’re already planning our next trip back there.

One of our favourite stalls in the regular Saturday market had also set up in the Street Market – Olives West Cork is our source for excellent olive oil and the best parmesan cheese, as well as an amazing variety of nibbles

The week finished, as it always does, with the Skibbereen Street Market, and I will leave you with a slideshow of this colourful extravaganza.

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Start planning now for next year! Everything books up quite quickly when the program is announced and if you leave it too late there may be no place to stay and no tables left unclaimed. It will be the among the best few days you’ve ever spent!

Gary, Paul, and Nana’s Soup

Rowers Return

Two local lads, from Lisheen down the road, have stolen the hearts of everyone in West Cork. Everyone in Ireland, actually, and beyond.

On the stand

Gary and Paul rode the open-topped bus into Skibbereen on Monday night and then spoke from the stage at Fairfield

Gary and Paul O’Donovan won a silver medal in Rio in their rowing pairs class. They row for the Skibbereen Rowing Club, a local club that punches way above its weight in national and international competitions. The coach credited with that is the brilliant, but mono-syllabic, Dominic Casey. Taking Gary and Paul under his wing, he turned them into the hard-working athletes they are.

MUM AND NANA

In  the window on the left, the boys’ mother, Trish O’Donovan, and their grandmother (Nana), Mary Doab

Their parents’ devotion was sterling. Eoghan Harris’s Independent interview with their Mother, Trish, is perhaps one of the most revealing pieces of journalism about the O’Donovan Brothers phenomenon and what it takes to support an Olympian.

Waiting for the Open-Topped Bus

Gary and Paul are also dream interviewees – every sentence is a sound bite, delivered in pure West Cork accents, with artless but articulate insouciance. Their interviews are now the stuff of legend – but if you haven’t already seen them, take a look at this one done before the final race. What shines through, and makes them so endearing, is that they take their training, but not themselves, seriously.

Pub Window

Above: Left, Stella and Hugh sporting their ‘occasion wear’; Right, this young man let me take his photo in his Shteak and Spuds shirt. Below: Many of the Skibbereen merchants had decorated their windows

The classic quotes have already been immortalised and the T-shirts have been selling like hot cakes in Skibbereen. The night of their homecoming it seemed like the whole of West Cork turned up to welcome them, including us! It was great fun to be there, in the streets, waiting for the open-topped bus, and then to see them on the stage, with Dominic Casey, so obviously having the time of their lives.

Replay

We, thousands of us, re-lived their big moment on an enormous screen in the Skibbereen Fairfield

Someone who came in for special praise in one of their interviews was the boys’ grandmother – their Nana (the first of the interviews on this page). Coming in cold and hungry from rowing, they gratefully wolfed down her home-made soup and ‘brown cake.’ Here in West Cork when we talk about a ‘cake of bread’ – what we mean is that solid round mass of white or brown home-made soda bread that is one of the staples of our diets, and that tourists have come to love.

Following the Bus

It  seemed like the whole of West Cork turned out to greet them

In honour of Gary and Paul and their Nana, and using only locally grown and organic vegetables purchased at Levis’s of Ballydehob Wednesday Farmers’ Market, here is my recipe for Nana’s Soup. It’s vegetarian and gluten-free – and totally delicious! Serve with a wedge of brown bread if gluten is OK for you. (I’ve become more sensitised to gluten issues recently as a dear little niece has been diagnosed with coeliac disease.) 

Levis market

Local growers sell their fresh vegetables at Levis’s pub in Ballydehob on Wednesday mornings

NANA’S SOUP: THE RECIPE

Vegetables: I used kabocha squash, onions, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and green beans, but you can use any robust vegetables that are in season.

Other ingredients: 1 can organic tomatoes, tapioca starch, vegetable stock (I used Marigold Swiss Veg Bouillon, but Knorr Veg Stock Pot is also gluten-free)), fresh or dried herbs.

Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and roast in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool. Once cool, scoop out the flesh of the squash and chop roughly.

Peel and roughly chop the onions, potatoes, carrots and parsnips. Top and tail the green beans and cut in half or thirds. Chop the herbs (I used parsley sage, oregano and fennel from my garden, but any combination that suits you is fine).

Sweat the onions over medium heat in butter or olive oil until translucent. Over the onions, scatter about 2tbs of tapioca starch (this make it gluten-free, but if gluten is not a problem, just use flour) and stir until well mixed and starting to thicken. Pour in a can of organic tomatoes, the herbs, and a cup or two of vegetable stock. Stir until well mixed, then add all the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for at least an hour, preferably two or even three.

Soup and brown cake

After a bowl of this, you too can Pull Like a Dog!

Gary and Paul aren’t intimidated by a ‘bit of wind’. This is why – Skibbereen Rowing Club is on the beautiful , and breezy, Ilen River