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Ómós Digest: #1 Magical Berries
Sea buckthorn and fermented honey, who knew?
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This week we take a look at sea buckthorn amongst other incredible fruit found on Glenidan Farm in Co. Westmeath, Ireland. This newsletter is brought to you by Cúán Greene, Founder of Ómós.
I remember when I first met Desmond and Katerina. Our first encounter started with a small handful of roasted hazelnuts wrapped in a fist-sized sweet tin. I will never forget this flavour: like Nutella, on crack. It’s rare. Perhaps twice or three times a year if I am lucky, do I experience the stimulating sensation of tasting an ingredient that is so breathtaking. I become completely engrossed by what I have just eaten, that my mind and body are brought elsewhere. To me, it’s one of life’s greatest rewards and I can count the times it’s happened. An Ataulfo mango in Quintana Roo, Mexico, where I sat on the curb of a street and stared at the fruit in disbelief. It was there that I finally understood mangoes. My first time trying the buds from the blackcurrant plant. How could something so small taste so perfumed and reminiscent of the fruit, replacing juice with remarkable essential oils? These moments are marking, and to me, produce like that makes this ongoing pursuit of ethical food worth it.
Beehives at Glenidan farm.
Far off flavours found in...Ireland?
Desmond and Katerina are the owners of Glenidan Farm in Westmeath, Ireland, and are the kind of people who speak with such enthusiasm and mindfulness that you can’t help but smile. Like only a mother would do, Katerina regularly sends me newspaper cuttings of articles I might like, congratulatory messages, and on an occasion, I receive a precious sweet tin, comprising a handful of jewels. On their farm, Desmond has planted over a thousand hazelnut trees, apples of all varieties, and damsons. They have beehives, producing remarkable honey from bees that are deeply cared for. What is really exciting is that, like me, they both seek to expand their knowledge and experiment, which is why they have the largest and most remarkable sea buckthorn crop I have ever seen. As well as growing unusual fruits such as aronia berries and Chilean guavaberries; the latter a small berry that ripens in winter and tastes to me, like canned strawberries with a kiss of clove. JR Ryall of Ballymaloe House in Co. Cork tells me they call them ‘myrtle berries’, and Ballymaloe uses them for flavouring their gin.
Above, a handful of guavaberries.
It was only a few months before that, onboard a cramped Boeing 747 with potter Stephen O’Connell, that I had first heard of the guavaberry. Although we are now dear friends, at the time I barely knew Stephen. He and his wife Alexis have the most beautiful pottery studio in Co. Kerry near Cahersaveen called Fermoyle Pottery. On this occasion, the flight was taking us to Romania to cook at a dinner that focused on the collaboration of cooks and potters. I invited him after we met on an inspired night of drinking and eating (mainly drinking) in Dublin only months before. During the four and a half hour flight, we launched one conversation into another, he the master and myself very much the apprentice. While much of our conversation surrounded the relationship of food and clay, Stephen’s acute knowledge of horticulture was apparent. Along the course of our conversation, he revealed his excitement about a berry that would ripen in the winter when everything else was sparse: an evergreen bush that hails originally from South America. Following this trip I kept my eyes out along every hedgerow, to no avail. It wasn’t until I had received a package from Glenidan Farm a couple of weeks ago, and inside was a small sweet tin containing 8 little round red berries.
While this crop of guavaberry bushes are in their infancy, I look forward to the day that I have a source of berries large enough for me to test multiple recipes (do you have any? hint hint). For now, let's look at sea buckthorn, a delicious and equally as intriguing coastal berry.
Katerina and Desmond lost in sea buckthorn on Glenidan Farm.
We are served Lentil Daal with Desmond’s fresh brown bread back at their farmhouse.
The berry that keeps on giving
Much of my twenties was spent (let’s note I remain in my twenties) living and cooking in Denmark. Although I had seen sea buckthorn in recipes, before then I had yet to taste the bright orange berry. Available to purchase in Danish supermarkets, it has been made into products such as juice, jams, compotes, and even beauty products (or so I am told…). It is said to have ten times more vitamin C than oranges, and with multiple health benefits, it really is a nutrient bomb. Yes, some people think it tastes like vomit, but to me, the acidic berry has this incredibly pronounced flavour of tropical passionfruit. I wonder how long it will be before commercially in Ireland we really catch on? On my visit to Glenidan farm, I was put to work, with Katerina telling me that we would each be picking 2 kg of berries. Sea buckthorn grows as a bush, with spiky thorns used as a defence mechanism. Its berries grow in tight clusters, beautiful to the eye, but can be a painful harvesting process. Many choose to prune the bushes, taking the fruit along with the branch, freezing the whole lot, and then shaking fruit off the frozen branch- but not Katerina. Everything she does is measured - perhaps a nod to her German roots. While Desmond roars around the farm on his off-road quad bike, Katerina prefers to go by foot, inspecting each tree, flower, or fallen apple with care as she passes. When harvesting the sea buckthorn she picks delicately and meticulously, selecting only the perfect berries and placing each one in her bucket. Having originally thought that 2 kg of fruit seemed like a manageable amount, I soon realised that I was in for a long afternoon.
Back in the kitchen following our visit to Glenidan Farm, we were inspired to create a recipe that would celebrate sea buckthorn year-round, as it is usually harvested in the months of August and September. Because sea buckthorn can be so tart, the obvious role call is to add sugar. In this instance, we use sea buckthorn with honey, inspired by the hives from the farm. You may be asking yourself why would I ferment honey? Simply put, honey contains a collection of really interesting bacterias and yeasts waiting to be explored. What’s more, because honey contains such a high sugar content, the microbes are left stagnant- this is why honey will never go bad. By diluting honey with water and salt, we provide it with an aerobic environment capable of supporting lactobacillus, and producing an extremely delicious nectar in the process. This recipe for fermented honey is an adaptation of a recipe we used to make while working at Noma’s pop up in Tulum Mexico, replacing the mango skins with sea buckthorn. The honey is delicious dressed over chilled fruit or in a cocktail.
Sea buckthorn berries.
LACTO-FERMENTED HONEY WITH SEA BUCKTHORN
Makes about 800ml
20 g non-iodized salt
375 g water
375 g untreated honey (Olly’s Farm honey is amazing, and he’s a deadly guy)
1 pasilla chilli, deseeded (optional)
200 g sea buckthorn, fresh or frozen (or a tropical fruit like mango or pineapple)
Using a hand blender or whisk, combine the salt and water until dissolved.
Add the honey and blend once more. Add the chilli (if you are using).
Gently muddle the sea buckthorn berries in a bowl.
Sterilise your jar (see instructions below). Don’t skip this step.
Add the honey mixture then add the crushed berries.
Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the liquid (the wrap should be touching the liquid). Ensure that it is well covered.
Seal the jar but not too tight. You want the gas to be able to release gently.
Allow the honey to ferment in a warm place for 3-5 days at an optimum temperature of 28°C or until the liquid has soured adequate to your taste. Don't worry if you don’t have a room that warm, the fermentation process may just take a little longer. The best way for you to know if it is done is through taste. It’s all about preference.
When you are satisfied with the flavour, strain through a sieve into a clean jar or container, discarding the pulp. Place in the refrigerator. It will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge, but you can also freeze it to preserve it longer.
How to sterilise jars for jams and preserves
Preheat the oven to 160°C.
Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water.
Rinse them only - do not dry them with a cloth.
Place the wet jars onto a baking tray and into the oven for 10 minutes until dried out.
Soak the plastic seals in boiling water for a few minutes, and air dry (do not place in the oven)
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