Friday 20 April 2018

Season to savour tasty fruit of our summer toil

Short staycations are a great way to sample fabulous local food and support producers, says Lucinda O'Sullivan

A FINE SPREAD: Celebrity chef Clodagh McKenna tucks into some local goodies in Waterford city to mark the launch of the 2010 Waterford Harvest Festival
A FINE SPREAD: Celebrity chef Clodagh McKenna tucks into some local goodies in Waterford city to mark the launch of the 2010 Waterford Harvest Festival

THIS is a time of year I like even better than high summer -- a softer, calmer, golden time, best expressed by John Keats in his Ode to Autumn, penned almost 200 years ago:

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run."

It is a time when one can enjoy short breaks and hops around the country, and a time too for all those wonderful food festivals, which are such great fun, and also bring custom and business to their local areas. From September 10 onwards is actually a great time to take a week's holiday, as you can coast along from Waterford in the east to Skibbereen in the west, enjoying three food festivals on the way.

The Waterford Harvest Festival kicks off next Friday, September 10 and runs for a mighty 10 days.

The idea is to bring together, involve and educate people, and the community, in the appreciation of good, clean, food, whilst showcasing the gastronomic delights the region has to offer.

Events include educational talks, food markets, cookery demonstrations, grazing trails, a street party and a party in the park hosted by the Mayor of Waterford, Cllr Mary Roche.

The event kicks off with a fabulous historical banquet at Waterford Castle, with chef Michael Quinn recreating food in the style of one of the last gastronomic events hosted by Princess d'Ardia Caracciola, nee Mary Purcell Fitzgerald (1908--1968), who was the last member of the Fitzgerald family to live in the castle.

Diners will be brought back in time and given a taste of food and hospitality celebrating 800 years of the castle. Tickets are €80 including wine. Next day sees two slow-food tours, the party in the park, and the street party. From Monday 13 to Thursday 16 there will be two cookery demonstrations at 7pm at Blackfriars followed by a tasting session (entry free).

Saturday, September 18 -- Deise Day -- should be one to relish when Macra na Feirme comes to town with a toy tractor rally, bale-pushing, obstacle courses, and even trying to milk the special Macra cow!

The Saturday market folk will be joined by Jack Molloy Butchers who will be selling traditional Waterford fare, including hog roast ribs, trotters, colcannon, and of course the blaa, the local bread roll. Deise Day will be rounded off with a Ceili Mor.

Also on the same week (September 11 to 19) is A Taste of West Cork Food Festival based at the delightful town of Skibbereen. This festival first started in 2004 and has grown ever since. On September 11 there will be a banquet at the West Cork Hotel with special guests including Chinese ambassador Liu Biwei and his wife, and representatives of the US ambassador.

There will be farmers' markets, and special dishes on menus in restaurants, including Goblets and Gourmets, a tutored wine-tasting followed by a fab four-course dinner at Over the Moon Restaurant on Bridge Street on Friday 17 (tickets €50).

There will be fun cookery events for children, food trails to local producers for both adults and children, plus on Tuesday 14, Martin Shanahan of Martin's Mad About Fish will be doing a demo at 7 pm at the West Cork Hotel. (tickets €15). Next day will see a Sushi demonstration at Annie May's Restaurant on Bridge Street at 6 pm (free).

On September 11, at Midleton, east Cork, they will have a great whing-ding of a day with a food and drink festival. Midleton Main Street will become an open-air food and drink market, with a whole pig turning on a spit, and an array of scrumptious foods to indulge in. There will be craft exhibitions and an Agri-Aware Mobile Farm, which is an educational experience for all the family -- hold the animals, feed them, and learn about their role on the farm.

There will be street entertainment and a waiters' race.

When you have recovered from Waterford, Midleton and Skibbereen, you will be just about ready to set off again for Galway where, from September 22 to 26, the City of the Tribes will be hosting its 56th Galway International Oyster Festival. The city will be awash with Guinness and oysters, live music and entertainment, craic agus ceoil, a street party in the Latin Quarter plus a best-dressed lady competition and an oyster pearl competition for the ladies with the prize being a string of cultured pearls, a cash prize of €500, a crystal trophy and other goodies.

There is really nothing like our wonderful native oysters, and of course each year hundreds of competitors from around the world enter for the Guinness World Oyster Opening Championships.

The current reigning champion is Xavier Caille of Belgium who will be defending his title this year.

Dingle is a glorious location for a festival and on the first weekend in October the foodie caravan arrives, including myself as a judge on the Blas na hEireann Irish National Food Awards Academy, which is part of the Dingle Food and Wine Festival. Two years ago, I was lucky enough to partake in a blind tasting of 23 black and white puddings directly followed by 32 cheeses.

There will be interesting food trails in over 40 outlets where festival-goers can purchase taste tickets and sample local cuisine in pubs and galleries, shops and restaurants. A kitchen will be set up in St James Church with a variety of chefs giving demonstrations.

The line-up includes oyster-tasting, a charity auction, wine-tastings and tutored workshops including beehive and hen-keeping, grow your own food and coffee-tastings. There are some great restaurants in Dingle including Global Village and The Chart House.

And so to Kinsale where the original Irish Gourmet Festival heads into its 34th year on the second weekend of October. This year it is sponsored by Bollinger Champagne and there will be plenty of Ab Fab types floating around the town. It kicks off at 3pm on Friday, October 8, with a cookery demo and wine reception at the White Lady Hotel. Martin Shanahan will be doing the cookery demonstration this year, and that will be followed at 6.30pm by the official opening and a Bollinger reception with canapes from Kinsale's Good Food Circle of restaurants.

After that you choose your own restaurant and then head off to the festival club at the Blue Haven Hotel. Saturday is always an hilarious day with the Mad Hatters Taste of Kinsale. It starts at Acton's Hotel at 11.30am. The group breaks into four and follows either Alice, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare or the Fieldmouse in a tour of the 11 members of Kinsale's Good Food Circle who will present dishes from their kitchens.

On Sunday there is a fabulous fruit de mer four-course lunch including lobster, crab, and prawns, accompanied by superb wines sponsored by Torres Mas Rabell. Here too there are some excellent restaurants -- Shanghai Express, Max's Wine Bar, Toddies at the Bulman, Fishy Fishy, White House, Jim Edwards and Blue Haven, Man Friday and White Lady.

The Savour Kilkenny 2010 is set to be their biggest and best yet, with Kilkenny Castle forming a spectacular backdrop to the event which will take place over the Bank Holiday weekend, October 22 to 25. Claire Daly, who has worked with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is the new festival manager. The new Parade Plaza in the heart of Kilkenny will be home to a food village which will be buzzing with stalls where you can taste and buy the very best of food from Kilkenny producers, restaurants, hotels, cafes and chefs.

There will be demonstrations in the new Marquee Theatre, in front of the castle, by celebrity chefs. Small, affordable, tasting plates will be available for food lovers to buy and enjoy as they wander through the stalls.

You might like to take part in the Savour Kilkenny Masterchef competition with judges Kevin Dundon and Catherine Fulvio.

A highlight will be Sunday's Smithwick's Ocktober Feast in the main marquee with long tables and ceili music.

If you are footloose and fancy free and feeling hungry today, the restaurants and chefs of Greystones, Co Wicklow, are hosting Gourmet Greystones at Greystones Town Centre. The day will feature cooking demonstrations from Sunil Ghai of Ananda Restaurant, Derry Clarke from L'Ecrivain, and John Howard of the legendary Le Coq Hardi.

And only after that can the dieting start.

Sunday Independent

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