Archive for ‘food’

September 5, 2013

Blackberry cock – An Irish twist of an east Finnish classic

by Ciaran Burke
The baked pie... anybody for some blackberry cock?

The baked pie… anybody for some blackberry cock?

When I was first offered a fish cock in Kuopio, the capital of the eastern Finnish province of Savo, I did not know how to respond. One does not wish to be rude and impolite to the natives, but the prospect did not sound too promising. The look on my face must have betrayed my fear, it was explained to me that the fish cock was indeed a fish pie. Mustikkakukko, blueberry cock, is a blue berry pie made with a delicious rye pastry. Such pies are also called rättänä in Savo, Finland. The Finnish blueberry is Vaccinium myrtillus, what we call bilberry or froachan. The bilberry season has passed us, it is now prime blackberry season. Along the hedgerows and roads the black fruits of Rubus fruticosus, hang inviting us to pick them, and so the blackberry cock was created!


Blackberry Cock (pie made with rye pastry)


For the pastry

  • 250ml Rye flour
  • 125g butter
  • 125g light muscavado sugar, sieved
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the filling

  • 700ml blackberries (about 0.5kg)
  • 50ml sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon corn flour
Crumbling the butter with the rye flour

Crumbling the butter with the rye flour


  1. Mix together the rye flour with sieved sugar and baking powder
  2. Crumble in the butter
  3. Wrap in greaseproof paper and put in the fridge for at least an hour
  4. Mix the blackberries, sugar and corn flour
  5. Line a ceramic dish with a little more than half of the rye pastry, saving some for the top
  6. Fill in the blackberry mix and then top off with the rye pastry. Working with rye pastry is more difficult than wheat or spelt pastry, it is very difficult to roll. So don’t worry if it does not hold together.
  7. Place in a pre-heated oven to 200 degrees Celcius and bake for 30 minutes.

The soft texture of the sweet rye pastry is delicious with blackberries. In Finland the blueberry cock is often served with vanilla custard, that would also be perfect for the blackberry version. Serve the pie warm or cold.

A delicious slice of black berry cock.. yum!

A delicious slice of black berry cock.. yum!

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July 7, 2013

Foraged Food Indian Style – Creamy Buttered Nettle Panir

by Ciaran Burke


When I mention foraging to people, one of the first remarks made is often in relation to nettle soup… It seems that it is probably the best known foraged food, and while nettle soup can be tasty and delicious, it is a pity to limit the experience of harvesting wild food to the same old recipes. Nettles are delicious and tasty, and can be cooked in a number od ways as a vegetable, steamed and eaten with melted butter and freshly ground black pepper, saured in rape seed oil and eaten with new potatoes or even raw in a salad! If you rub nellte leaves roughly between the palms of your hands you remove the stinging hairs. It must be done firmly and with confidence, as the old saying about grasping the nettles says…

Nettle pesto is also delicious, used as a topping for potatoes or crostini, and of course, mixed with pasta and some finely grated cheese, I like a hard goats cheese with my nettle pesto. One of the most delicious ways that I have cookeed nettles this yerar though, is replacing spinach in the classic Indiam Saag Panir recipe.

While nettles are usually used as young shoots in the spring, older nettle clumps can be chopped back now and the new growths can be harvested in afe weeks time.

Creamy Buttered Nettle Panir – Recipe

Panir is a soft cheese that is easy to make at home. Bring one litre of milk to the boil then add about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, to make the milk curdle. Then pour the curdled milk through a muslin cloth. Squeeze the cheese in the cloth to emove remaining fluid and then shape into a flat block, like whenyou buy feta. Place the cheese in the cloth on a plate and cover with a chopping board weighed down with a tin of beans or a bag of sugar. Leave for two hours and then either refrigarate or use.

Homem ade panir cheese cut into cubes

Home made panir cheese cut into cubes


  • About 30 young nettle shoots
  • block of panir cut into cubes
  • 125 butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of onion seeds (nigella seeds)- nothing to do with onions nor Nigella damsecena
  • 4 curry leaves
  • clove of garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 150ml of cream
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 red chilli choped (optional)
mixing the panir and wilted nettles

Mixing the panir and wilted nettles


  1. Put nettle leaves in a steamer and cok until wilted. then cool and set aside
  2. Melt 25g of butter in a large saucepan and slowly fry the panir cubes until browned, then remove and place on some kitchen paper
  3. Melt the rest of the butter, add the remaining ingredients except the lemon juive and chillies. Stir for a few minutes.
  4. Mix the spinach and panir cubes and then add to the mix.
  5. Add the lemon juice and sprinkle the chillies on top.
  6. Serve with brown basmati rice or home made Naan bread- delicious!
Creamy buttered nettle panir

Creamy buttered nettle panir

July 3, 2013

Back in Blog… still foraging, still cooking, still gardening…

by Ciaran Burke


Oh how time has flown… it has been quite a while since I last posted a blog on this site. Its not that I have lost interest in gardening,  foraging and cooking, I still vey much have a passion for blooms and food.

Over the last months I have been taking my foraging activities to a new degree and have started a new food business called NjAM Foods. utilizing nature’s bounty I have been busy developing a range of wild flower cordials, ketchups and jams.


This is an exciting venture. I travel around the quiet roads in our locality and harvest flowers from flowering currant, gorse, dandelion and lately elder. I love the idea of using the wild plants to produce a food product which is uniue and delicious and really captures a true taste of the Irish countryside. Apart from the harvesting, there is the cooking, bottling, labelling, marketing and deliveries, it takes quite a bit of work to convert a flower in the hedgerow to a product on the shelf of a shop, but it is a fun new challenge.


So far a number of outlets are stocking NjAM Foods products:

Cafe Rua, Castlebar, Co. Mayo

Dew C Fruit & Veg, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon

Kate’s Place, Oranmore Town Centre, Orenmore, Co. Galway

Brid Tiernan at the Carrick on Shannon, Longford and Boyle Farmers Markets


Brogans’s Health Food Store in Bioyle.

The products we have made include Beetroot ketchup, Carrot Ketchup and Beer Ketchup. The wild flower cordials include Elderflower, Gorse, Flowering Currant, Danelion and soon it will be time to pick meadowsweet blossoms.

I have also been making jams; gorse flower, elderflower and meadowsweet from the wild flowers. Pina Colada, Rose and Apple are a bit more unusal but we are also making rhubarb and Vvanilla and delicious strawberry jam.

For some of our clients we supply the products labelled specifically for our suppliers as we do for Kate’s Place and our gorse flower jam for Cafe Rua.


We have a website, a Facebook Page and Twitter account too…

Njam Facebook page

Njam on twitter

I have also been busy with our Scoodoos, ancient tree spirits helping to save the planet, and my one tree photogrpahy project

I have also had time to forage for dinner and have been using foraged wild plants to give a wild twist to a couple of indian recipes… next blog will feature Saag Nettle Panir… and it wont be 4 months, promise…

January 18, 2013

Winter beauty smells so good – Winter Flowering Shrubs

by Ciaran Burke


Sweetness and spice… inhale! Ah yes… sniffing the delicious scent of witch hazel flowers is good for the soul. The fuzzy yellow flowers, or orange or red, depending on the cultivar, are borne with delicacy along barren stems as the darkest days start to stretch towards a brighter spring.The sweet spicy scent of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ is one of my favourite fragrances in the garden. The hybrid witch hazels are crosses between two asian species, H. mollis from China and the japanese H. japonica, and there are many fine cultivars from which to choose. We grow the red flowered H. ‘Ruby Glow’, but unfortunately it lacks the rich scent of other cultivars.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Ruby Glow'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Ruby Glow’

Under a large old native hawthorn tree, new shoots of aconitums are emerging from the cold earth, reaching to the light and creating green splashes on a blank canvass of winter soil, blank except for the three young bushes of Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis. This trio of dwarf evergreen shrubs have tiny flowers without petals, the white blooms borne in the leaf axils and on a calm day their scent journeys through the air, filling the air with sweetness.



The delicate almost translucent flowers of the bush honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, possess a fragrance similar to their woodbine cousins that scramble through hedgerows in summer. Borne in pairs the pale blooms are coloured only by yellow anther tips of their stamens, but their smell brings a warm glow of summer-like scent to a cold winter’s day.



I checked the naked stems of the winter sweet shrub, hoping in vain to see flower buds, but we will have to wait at least another year for the pleasure of smelling the scent from the pale glassy yellow flowers of Chimonanthus praecox. Young shrubs need time to flower, each january since we planted it a few years ago we hope to see signs that is has at last matured to flowering, but we will have to wait a while longer.



A shorter wait for us will be to enjoy the most magnificent winter scent of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’. The deep pink buds are loosening, the petals starting to unfurl. I checked it yesterday, but I knew long before any close inspection that it was not yet blooming. When in full bloom, it is more likely to smell the plant before you see it, such is the power of its perfume, wafting on calm winter air throughout the garden like no other shrub.



Daphne bholua was introduced to western gardens from the Himalya in 1938, it is a shrub that still remains in comparative obscurity despite having a heavenly scent and one of unmatchable strength in the winter season, perhaps in any season. It has pproved hardy through the two cold winters of recent times, losing its foliage after temperatures of minus 17 Celsius, but recovering well in Spring. A large and quick growing shrub to 2.5 metres or more, evergreen or sometimes deciduous, depending on cultivar and climate, it us unsurpassable in winter beauty and an invaluable asset to any garden where a gardener has a working nose and an appreciation of scent.

January 7, 2013

Gotcha Oca! Oxalis tuberosa – A new root crop with a future?

by Ciaran Burke
An Oca tuber

An Oca tuber

I first grew Oxalis tuberosa about fifteen years ago. I received the seed from a seed list, it was listed as an alpine plant from South America. I grew it in a well drained compost, lean, without much fertilizer and it eventually produced an attractive yellow flower. It was quite nice. Last year I was re-acquainted with this Oxalis, under quite different circumstances. A gardening firend of mine, Carmen Cronin who runs the Clare Garden Festival gave me some tubers of a vegetable plant which she described as having shamrock-like leaves and that it came from South America. I suspected that it was indeed my old friend O. tuberosa, although she called it OCA and pronounced it Och- ah.

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Well I was intrigued! The tubers were waxy textured and brightly coloured, some red, some yellow, others almost white. The following week I planted them in pots with the help of some students taking part on The New Growth Project course that we run in our garden. We watched the plants closely, all were curious to see how they would grow, would these funny looking tubers be a substitute for the beloved spud? We joked that one day people might be ordering bags of Oca fries to go with their burgers.

Oca plants potted up

Oca plants potted up

That was back in April. We planted the tubers in 2 litre pots of garden compost and later potted on the plants into re-cycled compost bags filled with more of the garden compost. These were kept in the polytunnel where we work with the students. The growth of the Oca was far more than I expected and by mid-summer we were battling for space with the South American vegetables.

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Ocas are relatively unknown as a vegetable, apparently they grow them in New Zealand where they call them yams, which is a very misleading name. Oca or Oxalis tuberosa are related to wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, a native of Irish woodlands. The foliage is very similar being trifoliate and shamrock like. The foliage can be eaten, it has an acidic sour taste which is quite appealing, similar to sorrel.

Oca will grow vigorously, some of the plants produced stems 2 metres (over 6ft) long by the autumn. Oca are not suitable for growing outdoors in all parts of Ireland, early frosts will turn the fleshy stems to mush before tubers start to form. The plants have a short day photoperiodic response for tuber formation which means that tubers do not start to form and swell until mid-October. Covering the plants with polythene or fleece will help protect them from light frosts.

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed


I found that plants in the polythene tunnel also got frost damaged when temperatures went below zero degrees Celcius (32F). As the days got shorter the students and I checked the plants weekly. After the tomato plants were cleared from our upper tunnel we moved the plants that we had been fighting for space in our potting tunnel to the bed vacated by the tomatoes. We laid the trailing stems of the Oca on the beds. Along the stems small tubers started to form. Portions of the stems that were covered with soil developed larger tubers.  Next year I will earth up the tubers more as some close to the surface had holes eaten in them by birds. Otherwise the Oca were untroubled by pests and untroubled by diseases. I did not give any extra fertilizer to the plants while they were growing as the plants were growing so big, but addition of supplementary fertilizer low in nitrates might help increase the yield of tubers if applied late in the growing season. We kept the plants watered throughout the summer.

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out


During late summer I experimented with taking cuttings of the Oca plants. They rooted quickly and easily and by Christmas most of the plants had made one or two decent sized tubers. I will use these plants for replanting this year.

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings


Our first harvest of the tubers was made just before Christmas. Two good portions were made from a well cropping bag.

Red oca from one of the bags

Red oca from one of the bags

So after all this, how do Oca taste? On Christmas Eve my wife and I roasted our first harvest of red and yellow Oca tubers. Oca tubers can even be eaten raw, but i prefer to cook them. They can be fried, boiled, steamed, deep fried or roasted. After washing the well, they are easy to clean due to their smooth and waxy skins. We then tossed them in rapeseed oil and baked them for about 20 minutes until they were tender.

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes...delicious!

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes…delicious!

OCA ARE DELICIOUS! They remind me a little of a fried potato seasoned with vinegar.

So next season we are going to grow more Oca. I look forward to experimenting with them; I am going to take cuttings from the first flush of growth and see if the plants make more tubers, I will earth up the stems as they grow. I will also experiment with day length control, and try to induce tuber formation early by covering the plants with black polythene for a few hours each morning to produce a shorter day length.

I can see it now, fast food outlets on Saturday nights after closing time “Do you want Oca fries with your burger?” “Yes please!”

Oca tubers from one of the bags

Oca tubers from one of the bags


Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer







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