From plains to pantry: Fermanagh’s Food Heroes

They may not wear capes, and their special powers don’t include flight. But that doesn’t make Ireland’s food heroes any less magic. Take Noel McMeel for instance

Chef Noel McMeel
Chef Noel McMeel

Roast Crown of Dromoland Estate Quail with Caramelised Pear and Cauliflower Puree, Baked Castle Rock Grey Mullet with Fermanagh Black Bacon and Braised Endive, and Kettle Beef Bourguignon with Roast Garlic Mash?

Yes, they’re Flavors of Ireland.

And yes, these dishes were available to the G8 summit leaders when they visited the Fermanagh's lakeside Lough Erne Resort

Finally, though, and most importantly, they are creations of Noel McMeel, a chef whose ethos “is about taking the best of local produce, cooking it as simply as possible and presenting it to the guest”.

Keeping it local

Noel is in luck. In this part of the world, basing your culinary style on locally produced ingredients is easy.

Within Fermanagh’s gorgeously green county borders, you have Pat O’Doherty’s Fermanagh Black Bacon (Pat’s pigs call Lough Erne’s Inishcorkish Island their very own) Tickety-Moo ice-cream (derived from cows whose living quarters include padded mattresses and individual grooming brushes) and Kettyle Beef (dry aged on the bone for up to 35 days).

You could say there’s enough culinary inspiration in Fermanagh to write a book.

Noel and Lynn Marie Hulsman have done just that.

Irish Pantry

Within the pages of Noel and Marie Hulsman’s book Irish Pantry are the kind of preserves, breads and ‘goodies’ designed with one express intention in mind. “to Feed the Ones You Love”.

In the meantime, the below recipe for wheaten soda bread will keep you busy.

Aprons in 1…2…3…

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Noel McMeel’s wheaten soda bread

This version is a healthful and toothsome standard family bread that keeps beautifully when wrapped tightly or stored in an airtight container. It begs to be served with sweet butter and jam or alongside a hearty meat dish dripping with gravy. You can premix the dry ingredients and store them in a canister, adding the butter and buttermilk later, if you prefer, for fresh hot bread in the wink of an eye.

Makes two 8 X 4-inch / 20 X 10-centimetre loaves

  • 2 tablespoons / 28 grams cold salted butter, plus more for buttering pans
  • 3¼ cups / 450 grams coarsely ground whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2½ cups / 225 grams old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • 2½ cups / 700 milliliters buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Butter two 8 x 4-inch / 20 x 10-centimeter loaf pans and set them aside.

2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the salt and baking soda. 

3. With your hands, work in the butter until you have a crumbly mixture. Stir in the oats and sunflower seeds, using a large, wooden mixing spoon. Add the buttermilk a little at a time, mixing well. This batter should be on the wet side.

4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the loaves springs back when gently pressed with your hand.

5. Turn the loaves out of the pans and return them to the oven directly onto the oven racks for 10 more minutes to crisp the outside, then transfer them to cooling racks to cool completely.

6. Store in a breadbox or airtight tin for up to 5 days.

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