I’ve been lucky enough to travel to London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Venice, Madrid… all over Europe. The one place that’s been on my travel wish list since I was a wee lass is the tiny land of Ireland. And even though I married a man with strong Irish roots, a trip to his ‘homeland’ has never been in the cards. I’m saving my first glimpse of the emerald isle for him and Elizabeth’s love for Ireland just builds the excitement. Thanks so much, Elizabeth! -Maggie
My love affair with Ireland began more than twenty years ago when I joined my mother, sister, and grandparents on a trip to County Tyrone in the North of Ireland. My grandfather had scores of first cousins in the small townlands of Derrytresk, Derryavena, Aughamullen – all near the shores of the RIver Blackwater and Lough Neagh. We had some great craic visiting our family there; partaking in music, storytelling, and of course, a wee drop of homemade drinks like sloe gin and poitín. Right outside their doors, our cousins had brambleberries (wild blackberries), black currants, sloes (from the small Blackthorn tree), damson plums, stinging nettles, and much more. And they didn’t let them go to waste.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Ireland many more times since that first trip so many years ago. And each time, I bring a piece of it back with me – often in the form of photographs, but also in the form of food. I’m not one to buy food and bring it home with me, rather, I prefer to learn while I’m there and try and recreate what I’ve learned here in the U.S. in my own kitchen, for my family here, and for visitors to my blog, Wee Kitchen.
Ireland makes it easy for food lovers: it produces some of the best dairy, beef, vegetables, grains, fish, game, and fruit in the world. In fact, the production of food is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry. My cousins there have taught me a lot, but one message that continues to affect me is the value and authenticity of home cooked food using these products. That fresh, perfect soft boiled egg served with homemade wheaten bread; the Sunday roast with locally (or home) grown potatoes, parsnips, and beautiful beef or lamb; or the tarts made from apples, berries, or plums encased in shortcrust dough that rivals those made in France. And the butter – I could go on for hours about the golden butter produced from the milk of cows roaming those green fields.
Back at home in Virginia, plums are coming into season now – in Ireland, they’ll be ripe in September. Tarts and other baked goods using plums are well loved in Ireland, but I’ve got a hankering for a thirst quencher – something homemade. A perfect way to capture the essence of plums is by making a cordial.
Plum and Ginger Cordial
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups water
- 8 plums, pitted and sliced
- 2 stalks lemon grass, sliced
- One 4” piece of fresh ginger, grated
- sparkling water
- Place the sugar, water, plums, lemon grass and ginger in a saucepan over low heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Keep the mixture over very low heat (I used the “warm” setting), for about an hour. Remove from heat and cool. Strain the plum mixture through a fine sieve and refrigerate the liquid.
- Mix with the cold sparkling water to serve. I fill the glass ⅓ of the way with the plum cordial and the remainder is filled with the sparkling water and ice.
You can simply drink the cordial with sparking water, but why stop there? Add a bit of gin to the mix and you’ve got a refresher of a different type altogether.
I plan to return to Ireland as often as possible. This year, people from around the world are being invited back to Ireland as part of The Gathering. My family’s gathering began over twenty years ago, and I plan to continue well into the future. Each time, hoping to bring a little bit more of Ireland back with me.
All photos taken and styled by Elizabeth McNally/Wee Kitchen.
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