Wild about Wicklow

Don’t you love it when the seasons change and we change what we eat?  Now we can start giving our diet a little makeover and prepare for the summer! I’m looking forward to lots of nice salads. I used to think salads were boring but recently in Clodaghs Kitchen in Arnotts I tried a salad of roasted beetroot with some St. Tola’s organic goats cheese, peppery leaves, blood orange and balsamic – it was to die for! Beetroot is totally the fashion these days and I am fast becoming a big fan.  Do you ever think when you’re buying your salad leaves in the supermarket that all these things grow all around us and if we were lucky enough we could pick them or grow them?

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Foraging for wild food has been a way of life for many nationalities but still quite a new endeavour here but becoming more and more popular. In season now, although not for much longer is Wild Garlic which grows in abundance here but you have to go hunting for it.  With this in mind I recently attended a Wild food Master class in the beautiful Brooklodge Hotel and Wells Spa in County Wicklow – the garden of Ireland. The course aims to cover identification of wild foods, how to gather, cook and preserve using traditional methods such as sugar, oil, drying, vinegars and alcohol. Demonstrations would include anything from making wild garlic pesto to Wild Elder Flower cordial.

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In 1999, together with his two brothers, Evan Doyle opened The BrookLodge Hotel and Wells Spa  in Macreddin Village, Co. Wicklow and it is here that The Strawberry Tree, under the guidance of Evan, has continued to develop as one of Ireland’s showcases for artisan and locally produced organic foods. In 2004 The Strawberry Tree became the first and only certified 100% organic restaurant in Ireland.

Brooklodge is a unique concept property in Ireland – comprising of the main hotel building, The Strawberry Tree Restaurant and then a charming village enveloping it with Actons Bar, The Orchard Café and their Italian restaurant Armento.

On arrival at the hotel we were taken on a tour of the kitchens by Evan and Head Chef Tim and forager Clotilde and shown how they operate. Then we took a little walk around the grounds to see what they forage from there – including wild garlic. A short presentation followed with an explanation of how they preserve what they find in order to supply their kitchens for the full year ahead. It was fantastically interesting to see and also taste these things which I probably to be honest would never have looked at before.

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After a restful night in the hotel, a lovely dinner in Armento and a lovely organic breakfast the next morning we had a cooking lesson in the kitchen with Chef Tim, Evan and Clotilde who as part of her job can stand in the kitchen daintily painting primrose flower petals with sugar (I tasted them and they’re actually very nice!)  to preserve them while all around her are busily running around preparing dishes!!   We watched as Tim made some wild garlic pesto (my most favorite thing in the world – ever!), Hake baked with a wild garlic crust and a potato, leek and wild garlic soup – all really good!!  The food here is amazing and the entire place is beautiful. On the 1st Sunday of every month, they have a food market featuring the best from their suppliers and with a strong focus on organic produce.  See a pig on a spit, taste some organic Prosecco or a creamy pint of Guinness from Actons pub…no better way to spend a Sunday!

Tim's Hake with Wild Garlic Pesto Crumb
Tim’s Hake with Wild Garlic Pesto Crumb

A night here can be built into the tour that I designed with  celebrity chef Clodagh  McKenna for our Tour Ireland website – Clodagh’s Irish Food Trails tour – a foodie self-drive tour enabling visitors to get a true taste of Ireland.

I am for sure Wild about Wicklow!

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