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Darina Allen's Irish Examiner Article Saturday 23rd May 2020

The focus of Weekend today is sustainability. What could be more timely? However, for many of us the word sustainability is confusing and has many interpretations. A loose definition of sustainable agriculture might be farming in sustainable ways that meet society’s present food requirements without damaging the environment or compromising the ability for current or future generations to meet their needs.

The past few weeks have given us a badly needed opportunity to press the pause button in our busy lives. I suppose it must be my imagination that spring and early summer 2020 were the most beautiful ever.

The birds are singing their little hearts out to cheer us up. Everything on the farm and in the gardens is green, vibrant and blossoming. Mother Nature seems to be compensating for our misery and despair and reminding us that, given half a chance, she will provide abundance for us. Even in this short time, changes in human behaviour have benefited the planet: quieter skies, clearer water, cleaner air, healthier nature, bird and insect populations increasing.


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We can’t stay in lockdown forever but we now know that we can make massive, rapid changes when we adapt the ways we work and live. When this terrible pandemic is over, we have a chance to change our behaviour to offer a secure future, and survivable temperatures to our children and grandchildren, and we must.

For years now we have heard and largely ignored the scientists and climatologists’ predictions.

We could scarcely comprehend the scale of the threat to the planet and future generations, even if we could absorb the seriousness of the situation, many felt helpless. It was virtually impossible to believe that governments and vested interests would step up to the plate to implement the changes that needed to be made. Nothing but the Covid-19 enforced change could have achieved so much in such a short time.

As the planet became more and more polluted, causing almost irreversible climate change and extreme weather conditions: floods, tornados, cyclones, hurricanes, we were too distracted and growth-obsessed at any price to notice. Food became increasingly less nourishing, compromising our health and immune systems so we are less and less able to survive the increasing number of viruses that are challenging our systems.

It must now be beyond obvious that there is an urgent need to re-embed practical cooking and other life skills, including growing food into the national and secondary school curriculum. No Irish child, boy or girl, must ever again be awarded a Leaving Certificate without being able to prove they can cook for themselves. Otherwise, we are undeniably, failing in our duty of care to our young people, as many helpless 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds have realised to their cost in the past couple of months.

So how do we practice sustainability in our everyday lives? We can make a huge contribution in the way we choose to spend our food euro. Think about every item we put into our shopping baskets. Focus on supporting local producers and small businesses. Let’s ask ourselves is it in season, does its production damage the environment, is it properly nourishing, are the producers being paid a fair price, how about animal welfare, packaging? After all that am I buying more than I need? Let’s work towards zero waste in every aspect of our lives.

Start to grow some of our own food. Let’s be proactive.

Basic Shanagarry Brown Soda Bread


This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves (see below for tin sizes)


400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx.

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)


Loaf tin 23x12.5x5cm (9x5x2in) OR 3 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm)


Preheat oven to 200ºC / 400ºF / Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary.

The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry

We love Sri Lankan vegetable curries and their clever use of spices and delicious flavours. Serve as an accompaniment as part of a curry feast or as a dish alone with a salad.


Serves 4


2–3 tablespoons sunflower oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

50g (2oz) red onion, chopped

5 curry leaves

One-and-a-half teaspoons curry powder

8cm (three-quarter inch)piece of cinnamon stick

500g (18oz) beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm cubes

10 fenugreek seeds

5 green chillies

225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk, whisked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat, add garlic, onion, curry leaves, curry powder and cinnamon to the pan, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the beetroot,stir and add the fenugreek seeds, chillies and some salt.

Bring to the boil, add the coconut milk and continue to cook for about 20 minutes until the beetroot is tender. Season to taste.

nature they are both in season at the same time.


350g soft butter

350g caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably freerange

350g self-raising flour

Elderflower Syrup 2 heads of elderflower

50g caster sugar

150ml water zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon


We used a round tin with slightly sloping sides – 4cm deep, bottom diameter 21.5cm 24cm across top, well greased, but a regular 23cm round cake tin will be fine.


Heat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4. Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the heated oven for about an hour or until golden brown and well risen.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat.

Stir until the sugar dissolves, add theelderflowers, bring to the boil for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and juice.

Leave aside to cool. Strain. As soon as the cake is cooked, pour all the syrup over the top, leave to cool. (see note at end of recipe)

Remove the cake from the tin and serve with green gooseberry and elderflower compote and softly whipped cream for dessert.

A slice of the cake on its own with a cup of tea is also delicious.

Note: If you are serving the cake on its own, only pour half the syrup over it.

Little New Potatoes with Lovage Mayonnaise

Lovage is a perennial herb with a distinct celery flavour. Look out for it in the garden centres, it’s a really good thing to have in your garden.


We use it in lots of ways but its particularly delicious added to potato soup or as a flavouring for mayonnaise.

Serves 4-8 (depending on whether to be served as a snack, canapé or starter)


20 freshly dug, tiny new potatoes or larger ones, halved

Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Lovage Mayonnaise Makes 300ml (1⁄2 pint)

2 organic egg yolks pinch of English mustard or Quarter teaspoon

French mustard Quarter teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

225ml oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture).

We use 175ml sunflower oil and 50m olive oil

1 dessertspoon chopped lovage

Flaky sea salt


First, make the lovage mayonnaise. Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and white wine vinegar.

Put the oil into a measure.

Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop, whisking at the same time.

Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain rate.

Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary. Stir in the finely chopped lovage, taste and add more if necessary.

If the mayonnaise curdles, it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting, the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1–2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl and whisking in the curdled mayonnaise, a half-teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.

Next, scrub the potatoes well. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender, about 10minutes depending on size. Drain. Serve warm with a little dollop of mayonnaise on top of each or of each half. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.


This is a recipe by
Darina Allen
View all my recipes

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