Usually when I go to a bed at a festival, my last few moments spent before slumber, involve looking for any one of the following: my whiskey, my mates or my penis. A few hours later I will awake in the back of a van, whereupon, I will instantly go off and try to find my whiskey, my mates or my penis. The pattern emerged quite some time ago and has altered very little since. Imagine my joy, when I attended a festival last weekend and managed somehow not to cause enough brain damage, to lead me to the aforementioned loss of all faculties and sanity. Not only did I hit the hay while it was still dark out, I didn’t even get blotto drunk.
Of course, my good behaviour was down to the fact that I wasn’t attending your usual mad fuckpit in a field. I was down in Brook Lodge for The Wild & Slow Festival – a fantastic weekender that celebrated wild Irish foods at their very best. There was a 2 day market where stallholders were flogging anything wild that could have been picked, hunted, fished or foraged. I came home with bags of Wild Damson Cordial, Sloe-berry Jam, Seaweed, Dried Elderflower, Hazelnuts. I snacked on roasted wild chestnuts, barbecued venison baps and wild mushroom soup. Regrettably, I did not have enough stomach space to suck on the rabbit legs that were going round. They were coated in oats and Parmesan breadcrumbs, then deep fried – a steal at only €1.50 a pop.
There were a shitload of very well attended workshops taking place that were all about teaching everyone where to go looking for wild foods and what to do with them. When you’ve got the likes of Ed Hick, Derry Clarke & Darina Allen rolling all that out, you know you’re in good hands.
But the highlight for me was the outstanding meal we enjoyed on Saturday night. A five course deluxe where there were a minimum of 2 wild Irish ingredients on each plate. It was prepared, cooked and served perfectly and washed down with a geansaí load of vino. Brook Lodge’s Headchef Tim Daly and his crew were behind it all. Please observe:
A Potted Wild Rabbit, Wild Rose Hip, Wild Elderberry Jelly, Brioche
Our own Macreddin Smoked Wild Salmon, Wild Dillisk Foam
Wild Damson, Pink Peppercorn, Yoghurt Sorbet
A Wild Leaf Salad, Wild Woodcock, Pomegranate Dressing
Slow Cooked Wild Venison, Puff Pastry, Wild Garlic Mash,
The Macreddin Wild Desert Plate with Wild Elderberry Orange Pudding,
Wild Blackberry Panna Cotta, Chocolate Marquis, Wild Hazelnut Tuile
We need to be looking more at wild food in Ireland, for both in and out of restaurants. It’s local. It’s fresh. It’s seasonal. And it’s free. I don’t buy the counter argument of “but it takes time to get all those things.” Well we are time rich here at the moment. There are thousands of people in the country dying to work. Show them how they can bring all these foods to the table and maybe they too can sell them. Or even just eat them and save themselves a few quid? And if NOMA can be voted as the best restaurant in the world with a massive abundance of super fresh wild foods on their menu, surely we need to start examining whether we can blend some of that same magic here?
Massive show of respect for everybody who put The Wild & Slow Festival together. Massive show of respect for those who continuously use and serve these wild ingredients like Enda McEvoy over in Aniar Restaurant and Evan Doyle in Brook Lodge.
For any of the 150 odd who enjoyed the meal with me on Saturday, you may recall that there was a pasty looking lad pushing pre-dinner cocktails on everyone like a crackwhore at a schoolyard. That was me. The cocktail in question was The Elderberry Gin Fizz and they were made especially nice by the wild violet flower garnish that went onto all of them. Mary (I did not get her surname unfortunately) the foraging manager of Brook Lodge made that possible by spending absolutely ages picking through all the stems and leaves to delicately separate all the flowers. An exceptionally nice thing to do for me and indicates the level of passion that is so wonderfully predominant there.
THE ELDERBERRY GIN FIZZ
Here’s how we managed to serve 150 of them in 45 minutes.
A week prior to the festival, the Brook Lodge crew placed 2 tablespoons of dried elderberries into 9 bottles of Cork Dry Gin. They then placed a teaspoon of whole cloves for every 70 cl of Elderberry cordial they made. So when I got down there on the Saturday, I strained the gin to remove the berries and strained the cordial to remove the cloves.
I then set about mixing the cocktails shaker by shaker by placing in a scoop of ice, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and equal amounts of gin to cordial. Once I shaked, I batched everything into a catering bucket. This took a while but it was worth it, as the flavours had a chance to mingle.
Right before serving, with the lid on, I gave the bucket a great big shake again and started pouring out the mix into jugs. As each guest approached us, we’d fill a Slim Jim with ice, lash out the gin mix to 3/4 of the glass, top it up with sparkling water and then garnish with the wild flowers.
The equal ratio of house made berry flavoured spirit to berry cordial is something that I’ve found ridiculously easy to roll out and equally pleasing to the punter. All it needs is decent booze, produce and a little sour to cut through it. I would love to see other bars do the same, especially with Irish brands and fruit. Don’t be shy if you reckon you could be interested, I’d love to share more details.