Showing posts with label Nicholas Mosse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicholas Mosse. Show all posts

Friday, May 29, 2015

Highbank Organic Orchards. Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of Microbes

Highbank Organic Orchards

Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of Microbes
I’m walking through long rows of apple trees, all in blossom, pink and white abound. The grass between is ankle height, lush and liberally populated with white daisies. Lush, but recently topped. Had I been there a week earlier, I would have seen battalions of dandelions.

I am in Kilkenny, in the healthy heart of Highbank Orchards, an organic farm owned and managed by Rod and Julie Calder-Potts.  This is excellent land for farming, recognised as such for many centuries - even the Normans had their eyes on it.  The farm-yard is 17th century, the house is 19th, and the distillery (which I've come to see) is 21st.  

Rod in the new distillery
Now though, on a lovely May evening, all is calm as Rod takes us through the orchard, though not through all its twenty acres. Fourteen of these are mature, planted with quite a few varieties, including Dabinett, Blusher, Bramley and, scattered in among the others, that lovely juicy Katy. Katy is an early apple and has lost its blossoms.

Nothing has been sprayed here for twenty years. It is not that nothing ever threatens the apple trees but they are essentially healthy and can look after themselves. And Rod reckons much of that is down to the microbes in the soil, billions of them, all "working", not necessarily together - some eat one another - but combining to preserve the habitat. They are not disturbed, not traumatized by chemicals, and so the orchards live on and thrive. “Soil health depends on a thriving population of organisms”, says Dan Barber in The Third Plate.
Orchard spirit!
The next big occasion for the orchard is, of course, the harvest. The Calder-Potts keep the apples on the trees for as long as possible, indeed they allow them fall off naturally when fully ripe. Then they are swept up and taken to the nearby yard.

They are transferred then to the apple press, an expensive piece of kit, and the juice is extracted to be used in the delicious products that Highbank now produces: Apple Juice, Apple Juice with Organic Mulled Spices, their famous Orchard Syrup (Ireland's answer to maple syrup and launched in 2010), Highbank Drivers Cider (a delicious, sparkling refreshing non-alcoholic drink), Highbank Proper Cider, and a honeyed Medieval Cider.
Proper cider!
Recently they have moved up the ABV scale with the installation of their little distillery and are making Gins, Pink Flamingo Gin and the premium Crystal Gin. And there’ll be more! We enjoyed the tour of the bright new distillery. It is small. The operation is small-scale, bottling is done by hand. Small yes, but these are top class products.


Highbank is the setting for many events but most notably, from a food point of view, they have hosted the Keith Bohanna Bia Beag series with subjects such as artisan bread, locally roasted coffee, bean to bar chocolate. And, of course, there is the Highbank Christmas Food and Craft Fair.
They are a busy couple and you’ll see them at markets and food festivals all over the country, including most recently, Sheridan’s and Ballymaloe LitFest. Besides, they are involved in promoting good food generally. Kilkenny too is naturally close to their hearts and so we couldn't have had a better guide on a quick Saturday morning run through the marble city than Julie.

She showed us, with pride, restaurants such as Zuni and the Salt Yard, Slice of Heaven and its newly opened cookery school, the food hall at the Kilkenny Design Centre. Then you need something to serve your food in so off we went to Nicholas Mosse in Bennettsbridge, you need some nice lighting while dining and we got that at nearby Moth to a Flame (Larry Kinsella’s hand-made candles) and you also need something nice to look at on your walls and shelves and we found plenty of that at the Bridge Pottery.
Needless to say, the credit card took a bit of a hammering. On the previous afternoon, left to my own devices, I was on the drinks trail! Called to Billy Byrne’s Pub (the Bula Bus and its excellent onboard restaurant is parked in the back) and sipped some nice local beer by Ger Costello and a pale ale from 12 acres.

Of course, I couldn't leave Kilkenny without calling to Le Caveau. Pascal himself was busy on the road but we did take advantage of the reductions for Real Wine Month and went off happy with a couple of his organic wines.

And it was the drink that brought us to Kilkenny in the first place! In Highbank's internet competition earlier in the year, I won a meal at The Strawberry Tree and, in addition, I also won a bottle of Highbank's new Crystal Gin and that was in the car with us as we said au revoir to the Marble City and to two of its outstanding citizens, the Calder-Potts.
Le Caveau (left) and Bennettsbridge (from the Nicholas Mosse pottery)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ballymaloe Café & Shop. Pleasant Interlude in Shanagarry

Ballymaloe Café & Shop
Pleasant Interlude in Shanagarry
Plum tart. And left, Bacon (top), smoked Mackerel
Gortnamona, Cashel Blue, Rosscarbery Bacon, Frank Hederman, Tim O’s. All these local names appeared on the board in the Ballymaloe Cafe Wednesday at lunchtime. It instils confidence in customers (including me) and underlines Ballymaloe’s ongoing support for Irish producers. It also makes for an excellent lunch as we would soon find out.

Our first call here though was to the shop, packed with foodstuffs, kitchen and dining kit, clothes, books, and craft. Here again, there is great local content, including spices by Green Saffron. Look out too for Jerpoint Glass and pottery by Nicholas Mosse.

We replaced a few items, including a battered biscuit tin and some jaded egg cups. Our eggs will now be served in miniature buckets, with handles if you please. The book selection is very local indeed, much of it by members of the Allen family but also including the new Fresh Spice by Arun of Green Saffron along with Giana Ferguson’s Gubbeen.
But the one we got this time was Rory O’Connell’s Master It. Quite a large book but with very few big words. I have been reading the opening pages and am struck by the simplicity of the language and instructions, all as clear as day. Maybe there’s hope for me yet in the kitchen. One of the advantage of having so many local authors on the shelf here is that most of the books are signed.

Bags filled and then it was time for lunch. The cafe is conveniently situated at the back of the shop. Studied that board and we each went for a sandwich. CL picked the Hederman’s Smoked Mackerel while my choice was the Rosscarbery Home Cured Bacon, each €10.50 and each accompanied by Ballymaloe’s own brown bread, salad and condiments.

We were very happy customers at this point, couldn't have asked for more. But we did! I dare you resist the line-up of cakes and pastries on the counter. We didn't and each of us picked the Plum, Blueberries and Almond Tart. Haven't come across this too often but this was superb. All in all a lovely meal, served with no fuss but with smiles and chat. A lovely interlude.