Archive for June, 2011

June 22, 2011

Snails for dinner! L’Escargot With Onion and Pinhead Oatmeal

by Ciaran Burke

Snails in galic butter served on fried pinhead oats and onion

Snails, slime trails and munched leaves, hosta holes and devoured delphiniums, the ever-present threat, the garden terrorists. Innocent plant species, fresh from the secure haven of the nursery are easy targets for these ruthless slimy beings.

How often have we gardeners gone to our gardens full of enthusiasm and optimism only to have our day ruined by the murder scene of slime tracks, the evidence of the crime orgy of leaf munching perpetrated by these garden thugs?  Newly planted vegetables raised with care , coaxed from from their embryonic slumber by our efforts, these babies of ours are destroyed while we sleep. Some of my lettuce plants were devoured by the nocturnal activity of snails. It was time for revenge, to fight fire with fire, an eye for an eye. I decided to eat those that ate my plants!

Snails and slugs are molluscs, a zoological family that includes sea animals such as squid and octopus. The common garden snail with the large brown swirling patterned shell is Helix aspera and in common with octopus and squid it is quite a delicacy in some European countries; l’escargot. The idea of eating snails seems to turn most Irish people green, but lets face it, it not any worse than eating oysters, at least you cook snails. Oysters enjoy a place of privilege in the culinary world, yet what could be more natural than eating snails from the garden; home grown food,  raised in an organic garden, zero carbon footprint and no food miles.

Snail farm otherwise known as "death row"

In May I decided to rear my first meat from our garden. Hanna and I went out to the garden in the evening and looking down amongst the leaves of herbaceous perennials such as Libertia grandiflora, Kniphofia, red hot pokers and under the foliage of wall trained climbers and lifting flat stones we gathered over the course of three evenings twenty one nice big specimens of garden snails.

Carefully they were gathered, the gardeners’ instinct to crush the enemy was subdued and with tenderness they were carried to their temporary residence of white and red; a recycled bucket which once held mayonnaise. Into its red lid numerous ventilation holes were made with a knife. Cleaned thoroughly two lids from jam jars provided the buffet for the new occupants. One carried cool clear water, the other, bran flakes. We had tried feeding snails on other cereals, oats, whole grain spelt flour, but wheat bran is their favourite.

Snails in bucket

When preparing snails for eating, they require about seven to ten days of feeding to clear out grit from their digestive systems followed by forty eight hours of water only. The purging period is essential in order to clear their digestive systems; you never know what else they have been eating. Throughout this period the bucket was kept in our shed, cool, dry and dark. After a few days I placed a good pinch of calcium carbonate, ground limestone, for the snails to eat. This helps prevent their shells from going soft and breaking.

Every evening the snails were removed for cleaning of the accommodation. Most of the snails were either eating from the food or hanging upside down on the inside of the lid. They were removed and placed in another bucket while I wiped out their excreta and washed the box. Some of the snails were sometimes a bit messy so they also got a quick wash. Luckily they are not fast movers and although some wake up they did not seem in a hurry to rush away, perhaps they were getting used to the convenience food and water supplies of their bucket home, little did they know that their plastic home was not a holiday village, but death row. Each day though they were treated with care, fed and supplied with clean water and their quarters cleaned and their welfare checked, it was no Guantanamo, their rights were respected. After their ten-day detention period including the 48 hours fasting had finished it was time for them to be cooked.

Snails in water with onion and herbs from the garden

I had help to prepare them for the table; Hanna’s brother Mika and his partner Heidi were visiting from Helsinki. Both are enthusiastic foodies and were keen to take part in our meal of vengeance.

Cooking garden snails

  1. Remove the snails from the bucket and wash each snail under cold running water
  2. Drop the snails into boiling water and remove after 5 minutes. Some froth is produced as mucus is released from the snails’ bodies.
  3. The snails are removed from their shells using small forks. This is easy to do; a quick flick of the wrist imparts the swirled flesh from the shell.
  4. The snails release a little green mucus, and may release more. To remove mucus the snail flesh is washed a number of times in diluted vinegar. Repeat until no more mucus is released.
  5. Next cook the snails in stock or with water with herbs, there are many variations of this, we used fresh herbs from the garden including oregano, lovage and parsley and added some chopped onion to the water seasoned with salt and ground black pepper.
  6. After 30 minutes the snails were removed and then fried in butter with garlic and parsley.

Mika and Ciaran with the snails

Snail meat

We served the snails on a bed of pinhead oatmeal sautéed with friend onion. The snails were judges to be a great success, both Mika and Heidi enjoyed them, and I did too. While in Ireland they had both dined in some really fine restaurants but Heidi reckoned that the culinary highlight of their trip to Ireland was the preparation and eating of the snails. They were very tasty, in fact, never has revenge for garden damage tasted so good.

Heidi enjoying our home grown l'escargot

Heidi writes a blog about cakes (in Finnish) LINK

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June 13, 2011


by Ciaran Burke


Despite the less than summery weather over the last while I do feel that summer has indeed arrived. The reason, the ederflowers are in blossom. Sambucus nigra, common elder, is a native shrub/small tree to Ireland and all throughout the countryside its creamy white flat heads are to be seen. Apart from its medicinal uses of which there are many, the flowers and fruits are a great source of food and tastiness.


Elder is a relatively un-used plant in modern day Ireland, which is a shame. In recent years there has been a growing fondnes for elderflower cordial, which is delicious and very easy to make. On Friday evening I made a litre of cordial which will be ready to use in a few days time.  -To see previous blog on how to make elderflower cordial click on the link near the bottom of the page.

I love the clear fresh taste of elder flower and have been of the opinion that there must be more ways to capture its taste apart from making cordial. On Saturday we had elderflower pancakes which were delicious. I will post a blog on how to make them soon. But to enjoy the flavour of elderflowers every morning would be a treat, a great way to exercise the taste buds at the start of each day. So my mind turned to jam, not literally, but thinking of how I could capture the uniqueness of the elderflower flavour in a fruit spread, free of sugar. This resulted is two jams, Strawberry & Elderflower and Elderflower & Apple.


The first of the two jams I made was Strawberry and Elderflower which is very tasty, a great success. The sweetness of the strawberry seduces your tounge with sweetness then the elder flower tingles it. I made a small batch with strawberries purchased from the farmer’s market in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. But, I wanted more elderflower, and decided to try making a jam with apple. The result is fabulous, perhaps my favourite jam ever! So here are the two recipes. I like to make sugar free jams. Instead of adding sugar I use apple juice concentrate. Although it works out more expensive I do like to eat lots of jam, so it is healthier.

When making jams have clean jars ready. We use old jam jars, washed in hot soapy water then dried thoroughly. Place in a cool oven and heat to 100 degrees Celcius, about twenty minutes at his temperature should sufficiently sterize the jars.



800g of strawnerries with green parts removed, large fruits were cut into halves.

8 heads of elderflowers.

360 ml of apple fruit juice concentrate

2 apples, peeled and chopped

Juice of one lemon.


  1. Tie the flowerheads from the elder into some muslin.
  2. Cook chopped apple in the apple juice concentrate with the lemon juice and the elderflowers in the muslin bag until the apple pieces are soft.  (about 10-15 minutes) Keep the heat low after it has started to bubble.
  3. Add the strawberries and continue cooking at a low heat until the fruit is soft. (about 20 minutes). Stir to make sure fruit does not stick or jam burn
  4. Mash up some of the strawberries to make a pulp, leave soft entire fruit.
  5. Turn up the heat so that the jam really bubbles. Stir occassionally.
  6. When jam has reduced and when you move a wooden spoon across the base of the pot and you hear a good sizzle, then the jam is ready.
  7. Spoon the jam into the jars, be careful, the jam is very hot, wear oven gloves. Clean the outside of the jars to remove any jam that you have spilled, use a clean damp cloth.
  8. Place lids on immediatley.



We have just used the last of the jam we made last october and they have kept well using this method.

ELDERFLOWER AND APPLE JAM (SUGAR FREE)– Possibly the tastiest jam in the world!!!



1      1.1Kg peeled and cored dessert apples (the weight after peeling and coring). Chop into small pieces.

2      11 heads of elderflowers

3      2 x 360ml bottle of apple juice concentrate

4      juice of one lemon



1      Place the elderflowers in a muslin cloth and tie to make a bag.

2      Put all the ingredients into a saucepan. Cook on a low heat until the apples are soft (15-20 Minutes). Make sure that the muslin cloth containing the elderflower is in the liquid.

3      Remove from the heat and using a hand blender, blend the apples until they are pulp.

4      Return to the cooker and cook on a higher heat. The jam will be ready in about 10 – 15 minutes.

5      Spoon into sterlized jars and cover jars with lids straight away.


Elderflower and apple jam is delicious on freash beread or toast. Also great with some yougurt too. Even if the summer weather does not live up to expectations, elderflower will always be a summer treat in June.

MAKE ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL (LINK) (from my other blog on


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June 7, 2011

Bloom 2011 – Other things I thought were cool!

by Ciaran Burke

With so much happening, so many great garden, superb plants and enticing plant stalls, I don’t have time to write about them all straight away. During the week I will get around to uploading all my photos to my photoshelter site. For now though here are gardens, plants and things that I really liked at Bloom, but have not featured. (In no particular order).

  1. Tig from DYG.IE rolling his compost bin.

    Tig and his rolling compost bin- DYG

  2. Wall in Tim Austen’s Garden

3. Steam Museum garden

he Steam Museum Garden designed by Sophie Graefin Von Maltzan and Lodge Park Steam Museum Garden, Kildare

4. Foxgloves in Deirdre Pender’s garden

Foxgloves - AOS Sí designed by Deirdre Pender, Talamh Landscapes, Carlow

5. First ever international entry

6. Outdoor gallery

An Outdoor Gallery designed by Sophie Graefin Von Maltzan, Dublin

7. Delphiniums in the walled garden


9.  Japanese maple in Jane Mc Corkell’s garden

10. GIY Vegetable map

Vegetable map of Ireland - GIY

11. SEED – Edible School Garden

Edible Garden - SEED

12. Schefflera on Rare Plans ireland Nursery Display

Schefflera - Rare Plants Ireland

13. Pine Wood Deck in Deirdre Pender’s garden

Pine wood deck - AOS Sí designed by Deirdre Pender, Talamh Landscapes, Carlow

14. Tripod for outdoor cooking -DYG.IE

Tripod for cooking over open fire - DYG

15. Seats in Oliver and Liat Schurmann’s Garden

Seats - Large Garden: To The Waters Edge designed by Oliver & Liat Schurmann, Mount Venus Nurseries Dublin

16. Green Roof in Tim Austen’s garden

Green Roof - The Growise Garden in association with Kildare Growers designed by Tim Austen, Austen Associates, Wicklow Engaging Space

17. Water Features – Tim Austen’s garden

The Growise Garden in association with Kildare Growers designed by Tim Austen, Austen Associates, Wicklow Engaging Space

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June 6, 2011


by Ciaran Burke

Philip Bankhead of Penninsula Primulas picking the right plant

4 pm. A bell rings, sounding like a the teacher ringing the end of lunch time, but it is the start of the exhibitors displays sell off in the floral marquee. The thronging crowds are in a frenzy. Plants are being pointed at, pulled at, stand owners prodded. Rare delights are removed and sold, special deals offered, and gladly accepted. I had to keep a keen eye on our stand, “Is this pot for sale?”, “are you giving away anything” our plants and pots from our garden are endangered! But it is all good natured and fun.

Boyne Garden Centre Sell-off

Hanna helped Philip Bankhead of Pennisula Primulas. This is an annual arrangement ever since the first Bloom when Philip innocently said “help yourself’ t and his invitation to the public to pick their desired primulas and queue to pay for them was misunderstood. Now Hanna marshals the crowds with Finnish organisation and a teacher’s command. An orderly queue is formed around his stand as customers choose their plants, Philip packs them,  all are paid for; everybody’s happy. Around every nursery stand their is a type of bedlam, as foxgloves fly and lupins leap into grateful arms. Japanese maples move through the air, concealing people in a cloud of purple foliage that waves from side to side through the floral marquee. Smiles are on the faces of happy plant buyers.

Finlay Colley of Rare Plants Ireland in action

Bloom is as much about people as it is about plants, gardens and food. Each year we see the familiar faces, Koraley Northen photographing plants, people and gardens, Gerry Daly of The Irish Garden mingling and talking, giving lectures and talking on the radio. Orla Woods of Kilmurry Nursery, she performs her duties as Nursery Pavilion Organiser with good humour and efficiency and works the whole weekend selling plants on her nursery and making sure everyone is happy. This year we also had teams of Bloom Ambassadors referred to as “bloomers” milling around and helping the public with directions for toilets, restaurants, and anything else they need to know about Bloom. This year’s record attendance figures made sure they were kept busy all the time.

Koraley Northen - ever present, always photographing

We have had great neighbours around our stand; Jimi Blake from Huntingbrook our breakfast companion and plant spotter and tipster, Finlay Colley of Rare Plants Ireland who stocks a most temting range of trees and shrubs, we could not resist. Then we had Oliver Schurmann of Mount Venus flying around on his bicycle before the show opened, zooming between his show garden and nursery stand. Now that the show is over, the stand removed and packed in the car, our heads still whirring from the past five days, we are tired but happy. It has been a great show, thanks must go to Gary Graham and Carol Marks at Bord Nia for all their hard work through the year that makes the event happen.We have attended Bloom since its inception and each year it keeps getting bigger and better, looking forward now to next year.

Bloom Ambassadors to the rescue

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June 6, 2011


by Ciaran Burke

The Orb designed by Anne Hamilton, Fox Gardens, Enniskeane, Cork

There are so many gardens of high standard at Bloom this year, it is impossible to write about them all on my blog and also fit in time to sleep. So here area selection of photos from some of my favourites that I have not featured already. More will follow in the next few days. (Click on image to enlarge).

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