Here we are on Mother's Day - and hopefully the lady of the manor is being spoiled rotten. However, women always have to think ahead for 'high days and holy days', and, with Paddy's Day on top of us, the question du jour is: "Are you having bacon and cabbage for dinner?" If so, you might fancy trying the traditional Irish dinner with a twist - fast and furious and into the oven, no messing about with pots of water!
Innovative butcher and beef farmer Pat Whelan, of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel and Avoca stores in Dublin, has spent the last few months experimenting. He has come up with a fine, meaty, dry-cured rack of bacon which you just hurl in the oven for a couple of hours; and it's easy to carve. "Leaving the bacon on the bone instantly enhances the taste as, the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat, as well as creating a visual feast," says Pat. I fancy that with a sauce on the side - horseradish and Dijon mustard or horseradish and apple mix - dead easy out of the jars. Add a big bowl of champ and a nice bottle of Alsace Riesling. Job done! See jameswhelanbutchers.com
There is a lot going on in the world of small artisan producers in Tipperary, and I met some of them recently in the amazing Limerick Milk Market.
My mother had a real thing about fresh country eggs, which we always had to get when visiting the home turf of Kilkenny. So my eye was drawn immediately to a stall manned by Declan Gaffney. Declan is originally from Dublin, but his parents were from Cloughjordan, where he is now living. He laughed as he told me: "I have 170 birds and four children at home. The hens are out free-ranging and I feed them on Pedigree feed from Co Wicklow."
Also on Declan's stall were divine sourdough breads, as well as rosemary-and-olive-oil-and-rye breads by Joe Fitzmaurice of Cloughjordan Wood-fired Bakery. He also had duck eggs from Pat Ryan in Birr and honey from Borrisoleigh, and Sharon Greene's Wild Irish syrups made from foraged fruits and herbs.
I can't let a mention of bread pass without talking about the amazing breads from Hickey's Bakery in Clonmel. I would drive down there right now just to get my hands on one of Nuala Hickey's rich, fruity and moist barmbracks. I don't know anything else like them anywhere in the country. See hickeysbakery.com
Evie Ward of NutShed was brought up in her father's Peter Ward's Country Choice store in Nenagh. "This is my own branching out," says Evie. "I started making all the raw vegan and paleo stuff about eight months ago. Previously the connotation was of 'dry cakes' so everything I make is refined-sugar-free, a lot of it is vegan and, if it's not paleo, everything is wholefoods." Tel: (086) 153-3036.
I've always been a total 'chilli head', kicking off my day with eggs fried with chillis in olive oil and turmeric. My husband Brendan claims I got him by knocking him out with a fiery vindaloo curry. So when I heard that Chris Young had set up The Irish Chilli Farm, at Ballingarry near Roscrea, I was fascinated. "A chilli farm in Ireland?" I can hear you say. It's what I thought too. "In 2001 we bought a house on two acres in Tipperary and, when you come from London, that is a country estate. I was involved in IT, but the industry is changing and I could see the proverbial writing on the wall. Looking over the 'estate' in 2013, I was wondering what I could grow. I thought of okra, but people are not so familiar with that, and my wife suggested chillis and so the idea took off.
"We currently grow over 20 varieties including poblano, tabasco, scotch bonnet, ring of fire, jalapeno and big jim. No artificial fertilisers are used. Ladybirds, nematodes and the wren take care of pests, and we hope to have organic status in about two years. I am also trialling root ginger and turmeric." Tel: (086) 815-0890.
It was good to see Sefik Dikyar, tel: (085) 138-4425, with his heavenly baklava, and Kirsti O'Kelly of Silver Darlings, inspired by the herrings of her native Finland, both of whom I wrote about last year. See silverdarlings.ie
When there, pop in for homemade cake at Karen and Kieran Walsh's Coffee Cove in their huntin', shootin', and fishin' shop.
Not in the Milk Market, but an enterprising Tipp venture, is Liz Ryan's Fowl & Foraged breeding guinea fowl, with which they are wowing chefs and diners in top restaurants, including Tom Flavin at the Limerick Strand Hotel and the Michelin-starred Chapter One.
The Ryan family have been dairy and beef farmers at Cherry Tree Farm at Birdhill, Co Tipperary, for over 100 years. Guinea fowl's flavour is somewhere between chicken and pheasant, and it's a brilliant idea, as most of the guinea fowl available comes from France.
Liz says they always kept a few guinea fowl around the farm and, looking for an area of diversification, they set up Fowl & Foraged.
"I applied for a market research and development grant in 2013/2014 from the Tipperary Enterprise Board. It grant-aided a trip to Norfolk to the main supplier of guinea fowl for Marks & Spencer. They supplied me with my first batch of French guinea fowl eggs, which I then hatched at Cherry Tree Farm. I am delighted at the feedback I have had from chefs who like the fact that we supply a whole bird and not just the 'supreme' portions.
I hope to develop the production of guinea fowl and jumbo Italian quail further and transform our beautiful scenic landscape from one of cattle grazing to that of the exotic guinea fowl." Tel: (086) 081-7316.
I started with one long-standing Tipperary food producer and I will finish with another. Nora Egan of Inch House, in Thurles, is a star in the firmament of Tipperary food. She started some years ago making traditional black pudding from her mother's recipe and now Inch House pudding is one of the best known foods in the country, and is in lots of top restaurants. See inchhouse.ie
Tipperary is rich with good food and you might like to put a note in your diary that members of the Tipperary Food Producers group will be doing a 10-day 'pop-up' shop in Avoca Rathcoole, starting on bank holiday Friday, May 1. See tipperaryfoodproducers.com