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FOOD: Keep it organic, local and seasonal

Tasting
Nettles

Keep it organic, local and seasonal



Redmond CabotFood and wine
Redmond Cabot


I have a huge interest in local, organic and seasonal food. Maybe this is just hippy baloney … maybe not. Let’s look at some of the basic ideas behind the ideas of buying locally, organically and/or seasonally.
Why buy locally? Buying locally means that goods have less distance to travel, than if they are imported from further a field. This means less consumption of diesel, manpower and time. This SHOULD have an impact on cost for you the customer, and you should be able to source inexpensive local produce. It also means that money circulates locally: Money, wonga, the few bob – part of the lifeblood of a community – stays put and benefits the local economy.
Supporting the local economy helps to insulate a community from global movements and shocks. Sure, the economy in Japan may be in nosedive, but with local trade you can still support yourselves to some degree.
Why buy organically? ‘Organically’ means no artificial fertilisers and additives like preservatives. I am reminded of my friend, Wendy, who worked years ago on a fruit farm in Australia. After a week or so of work, the skin on her hands started peeling off because of the pesticides that were being used. She had to take time off work and wear gloves after that. Would you be happy ingesting those ingredients in to YOUR body?
Of course producers have been put under pressure to produce goods at a lower cost. This means they use all manner of chemicals and fertilisers to increase production values. Until the complex relationship between the market, producers, middlemen and the consumer is worked out better, and a fair price for both consumers and producers is agreed without rampant profiteering, little will change.
Why buy seasonally? Does it not make more sense to eat what’s grown in the environment you live in during the season it is grown? It confirms the link between the land and the food it produces – something sometimes forgotten in this get-anything-at-anytime modern attitude.
We also want our growers and producers to have pride in what they do. We all seek pride in our work. By consuming seasonally, producers gain a sense of value and appreciation in this world, as they realise that customers are taking an interest in what is growing, about to grow or being harvested.
Further, some reports have highlighted the positive health benefits of eating seasonally, as well as the negative advancement of free radical cells in your body when out-of-season food and exotic produce from far away is consumed.

Nettle soup
Serves 4 – 5
Speaking of local and seasonal produce, this is the EXACT time in the year to get some bloody good use out of that regular annoying feature of the Irish countryside: the nettle. You can find nettles everywhere in fields all around. Go for the younger leaves near the top and the crowning buds, or soft tops – and remember to wear gloves!
The following recipe for nettle soup yields a fabulous dish fit for a high king, a chieftain or even a comely maiden. Dark green in colour, it’s packed full of iron and natural power. Good for the blood – and the soul. And no, the nettles don’t sting you when you eat the soup!
This is the most basic of soup recipes, so it should be easy peasy.

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
8 handfuls of young nettle tops and leaves, chopped
25g/1oz butter
25g/1oz flour
1L/2pt chicken/veg stock
Salt and pepper
cream or buttermilk (optional)

>    Cook/sweat the onion and garlic in the butter on LOW heat until soft (10 mins). Be careful not to burn or over-brown onions – a thick-based pot or pan is good, as thin frying pans and pots tend to burn easier.
>    Add in the nettle leaves chopped, add the stock and season well. Bring to the boil, simmer for five minutes.
>    Re-heat, adjust the seasoning and add a little cream or buttermilk if desired.

Suggested wine match: A dry sauvignon blanc or muscadet to reflect the steely iron in the soup.
Some wine with that?


For me, matching foods with wines increases the enjoyment and feeling of dinner. I personally love dinner as a time to get together, enjoy food and chat. Learning a little of your subject helps increase the enjoyment…
Now, the first major obstacle to knowing wine lies in the fact that when French wines led the world, the wines were all known by their village names or the regions in which they were made. So, all the famous names we know – think Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Burgundy, Bordeaux – are actually just the names of real villages and districts in France. They mention nothing about the grape varieties inside the wines. The French, being the French, also have very tight laws governing the exact grape varieties that can be put into the wines that carry their village names.
But how are we Paddys meant to know all this? How are we to know what villages used what grapes? Leaving Cert maths was hard enough! The French, being the French, are not too perturbed if we stare blankly at the labels trying to understand all these foreign-sounding names, but it can be off-putting at the best of times.
Of course the wine expert will know immediately that a Chateauneuf du Pape wine uses a mix of syrah and grenache grapes and that a Bordeaux blend will be a cabernet sauvignon/merlot mix. (Even within that, the villages of the right bank of Bordeaux’s Gironde River – Pomerol, St Emilion – are merlot dominated, while those on the left bank – Margaux, Pauillac – will be cabernet  dominated). Phew!
More recently, the New World producers tried to make things easy and by simply labelling their wines by grape variety, so just ‘merlot’ or ‘chardonnay’ appears on the label. However, this can be misleading, as two merlots grown in different locations by different producers can taste quite different.
Exasperated? Don’t worry. All this will make sense over the coming weeks, but it brings us to our lesson today. To all those people who say ‘I don’t like chardonnay, but I love Chablis’, the startling and shocking news is that Chablis wine from Chablis village is made with chardonnay grapes! Yes sir, ’tis true. Eat or drink your words my friends! Chardonnay is the grape used for all Burgundy white wines, and Chablis is a wine specifically from Chablis village in the Burgundy region.
This is where the roots of the common Chablis/chardonnay gaffe lie: The New World producers starting bottling chardonnay and making it in just one style – big and round with loads of oak influence. Therefore, people think all chardonnay tastes the same. In fact, it is an incredibly versatile grape.
So there you go... The devil is in the detail. You have to do a LITTLE bit of homework to know your subject, but it pays dividends in the end – and, let’s face it, it’s not the worst kind of chore. Go out, taste wines, ask questions, enjoy!