independent

Friday 28 July 2017

Faces of the Sligo food trail

There is a tantalising incongruity between the exotic details of Mary Luthers' early life and the last few decades spent in a rural idyll in the northwest of Ireland.

Her grandfather, an Anderson from Calry in Sligo spread his wings wide and pursued a career abroad marrying a French woman; 'Granny Lily' to the young Mary. Their son, Mary's father, also worked abroad and even brought his young family to India for a few years, where her culinary world journey began.

However it was at Granny Lily's knee in Paris that Mary really began her love affair with good food. Like a French Mary Berry, this lady was not only a wonderfully gifted cook but also wrote a newspaper cookery column and published an encyclopaedia of cooking. Mary still has a treasured copy and uses some of the traditional recipes cooking and baking for the weekly Sligo market.

Carrying on the family tradition of travelling when she got married, Mary's own husband brought her to his native Belgium where they lived for several years, exposing her to yet another culinary style. That was in the 1970s when the organic movement was undergoing something of a revival, in response to the intensive local farming methods. The principles of organic farming and cooking made perfect sense to Mary, and she has remained strongly committed to them ever since.

Mary always felt a draw to Sligo particularly Calry near Lough Gill where her grandfather hailed from. After several enjoyable holidays, they bit the bullet and decided to make a permanent move. After a while living near Calry, they eventually purchased a small farm near Dromahair. Mary immediately began keeping hens and growing her own organic vegetables. Having always had a hankering to raise sheep, she was gifted half a dozen which kick started that part of the enterprise. While her five children were young, her organic produce and cooking were just for the family, but once they grew up, Mary put her eye on a market stall.

She got her organic certification and expanded her flocks of hens (to 200) and sheep (up to 50 at one stage, but around 20 now). Using some of her grandmother's recipes she began baking and cooking, making delicious lasagnes, quiches, tartlets, cakes, breads, preserves and casseroles - all organic and many gluten free as well. With this organic cornucopia, Bluebell Organic Farm burst onto the scene at the Saturday Farmers Market in IT Sligo. It's still going strong 11 years (and 9,932 mini quiches) later and Mary has lost none of her enthusiasm for the organic movement or for her smallholding.

Mary's early Indian influence is surely responsible for her recent short listing in the Bord Bia Organic Awards for the exotic sounding Gooseberry and Seaweed Chutney. Being close to The Organic Centre has been a real boon for Bluebell Organic Farm. Mary gives poultry talks there and used to teach wool spinning courses.

The Luthers also have a lovely self catering cottage which they rent to holidaymakers who can opt in to 'organic catering' if they wish. Judging by the delicious produce on offer at the market, they'd be well advised to do so!

No wonder it was a finalist in the Best Organic Place to Stay Awards run by the Soil Association UK. #SligoFoodTrail www.sligofoodtrail.com

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