Fancy food at the farmers' market
THEY CALL them farmers' markets – but it is far from goji berry and peppercorn flavoured chocolate that most farmers were reared.
Yes, Enniscorthy hosted the fourth annual All-Ireland Farmers' Market Championships in Abbey Square on Sunday as part of the Strawberry Fest. It certainly provided plenty of food for thought, though wellie wearing, horny handed, Massey driving farmers were thin on the ground.
Biddy White Lennon and Mary Phelan were charged with deciding who should take home the prizes – €5,000 worth in all – and their verdict favoured a local contender. Victory went to Zanna's cookhouse in Carne, with Owen Mullins stepping up to collect the cheque with a suave victory twirl of his moustache, looking very smart in his apron carrying the Zanna logo.
Owen was the first to admit that he is not a card-carrying member of IFA, while his wife and partner Lorna is similarly light on agricultural credentials. He had 30 years of a career in haulage, rising to the rank of manager with NVD before deciding to concentrate on his alternative vocation as a chef, while she worked in an auctioneering firm. Together, they now produce divine quiches, pies and pâtés, which they sell at the farmers' markets in Wexford and Enniscorthy.
'We are not farmers,' said Owen clutching the massive crystal trophy he had just received from Cllr Jackser Owens (a man with an even more impressive moustache, by the way), ' but we are from farming stock.' Not that most of their customers really mind one way or another how close Zanna is to the soil, or any of the other competitors.
The championships on Sunday attracted more than 50 entries, stalls ranging from a simple card table on which to display a few hand-knits, to elaborate refrigerated trailers capable of satisfying nit-picky health inspectors that they are fit for the sale of meat and other perishables.
While Zanna may have no pigs in the parlour and no oats in the haggard, the couple are well connected with plenty of people who do. On the side of their stall, they displayed a list of a dozen suppliers – all from Wexford – who provide top-class ingredients for their delicious fare. They range from Pat O'Neill and his Bunclody bacon to Anne Zuegel in Killinick and her organic herbs.
Owen says that he would like to see more growers cutting out the middle man and coming to market to meet consumers face to face. He also stresses that members of the public should not imagine that the food on offer at farmers' markets is necessarily high priced. Zanna offers a fiver a head three-course meal deal, for example.
The list of Sunday's winners contained a pastry pie maker from Kildare, a cup cake cook from Waterford and last year's champion, a baker from Millstreet in Co. Cork. All are worthy enterprises, though lacking any whiff of silage, which might hint at indicate the pedigree of a genuine country kitchen.
There was room on the roll of honour for a couple more local contenders with some real farm gate cred. Runner-up Laurence Farrell came from Tullow to represent Farrell's Farm, where they know a thing or two about real live cattle and pigs. And Mairead Fortune attended to wave the flag for Fortune Fruit & Veg in Ballyhogue. Selling fruit and veg is a long way from making Thai curry or artisan truffle chocolates on offer at some of the rival stalls.
Now, I am as big a fan of curry as anyone and I was really amused by the Truffle Troll (real name Podge Meade) who came from Kilkenny to promote the already mentioned goji berry chocolate with peppercorn (and ginger... I nearly forgot the ginger) among a range of 26 fantastic flavours.
However, I harbour a suspicion that, if the farmers' market movement it to retain its credibility, then it must offer authentic local produce.
It can be done, as Caroline Rigney from Limerick demonstrated with her range of beef, sausages and puddings. Rigney's farm is off the beaten track somewhere between Askeaton and Adare.
At her stall in Abbey Square on Sunday, she dispensed helpings of black pudding and told anyone who would listen that she makes this particular delicacy with fresh blood. The pigs who bleed for her are all of rare breed – Tamworths, or Gloucestershire Old Spots or Large Blacks. She let slip that the porkers head off to the abattoir nicely sedated with a ration of wine or cider, to make them more peaceful on their final journey.
You don't get stories like that with your packet of Galtee or Denny.
Winners of the Enniscorthy Town Council / IFA All-Ireland Farmers' Market Championships, held at Abbey Square in Enniscorthy: first, Zanna's Cookhouse, Wexford; runners up, Farrell's Farm, Tullow; adjudicator's merit awards – Aphrodite's Delight, Kildare; Cup Cake Heaven, Waterford; Fortune Fruit & Veg, Ballyhogue; Nibbles Food Emporium, Cork (2010 champions).