A few months we had the pleasure of being invited to be involved in the Pilgrimage Project: a collective of Irish, Icelandic and Greek artists exploring cultural and historical themes on retreat in a far flung corner of the west of Ireland, Co. Sligo. Our part was to provide meals on-site for the group and their guests, hopefully providing them with healthy, satisfying locally sourced Irish food.
On Monday evening, the May bank holiday weekend we loaded of the jeep of Donal Dineen with our week's supplies fresh from Temple Bar Food Market and we were on our way. The jeep was loaded to the roof and Robin packed neatly between everything. Sitting that evening goat's cheese and spinach tarts on her lap. While Cora, Donal's dog sat between Kevin and Donal in the front. The road trip would take us about 4hours, at times a little terrifying as boxes slid towards Robin's head.
We arrived at the beautiful Ardtarmon House & Cottages, we were shown our cottage with 'the best kitchen' we quickly requisitioned the use of fridges of two other cottages. Got set up making our dinner for the first night!
The afternoons were ours to do as we wished, between pretty that evenings meal we would relax and take in everything there was to offer. The beach which is ten minutes from the house was one of our first stops, the idea of finally getting around to doing our own foraging was exciting and with the support and local knowledge of Charles and Krista we were away. The house is encircled with thick forest and as you travel through you discover little cultivated pieces of land, Charles apple orchard, wind beaten and blossoming with his weather equipment at the centre. Krista's slightly wild polytunnel and a field of soon to be flowering berry bushes. Keep going and you end up on the path to the sea. Slide down the shale and you face the Atlantic. To my joy I found Sligo Tide Times on Twitter, which came in helpful for our foraging for seaweed on the following days.
We had been told ahead of time that we would have all the wild garlic we could pick, we put it to the test. Batches of pesto started leaving our kitchen and appear in the big house. We started thinking of how this beautiful place could be a paradise for foragers with little of any changing, with many cottages all with kitchens you could stay a week and feed yourself through most of the seasons. So much of the land was overrun by Japanese knotweed that we kicked ourselves for not being there a few weeks earlier, we had been told it was like some sort of magical LEMONY RHUBARB. The fields full of wild garlic, coronation garlic, young nettles and so much more made up for that though!
On one of our trips to the sea we had the pleasure of plucking some beautiful mussels during the low tide, they quickly became a lunch for Robin. Another thing that came from the beach also a pickled seaweed salad.
As the days carried on we began to incorporate our foraged foods with what we had brought from Dublin, the meals began reflecting the wonderful personality of Sligo, warm and caring but hardy and full of energy. We wanted the pilgrims to have the energy to take on each day. Each night we would see new guests arrive and some old guests depart, each night they had the pleasure in partaking in our foods.
Here's a few of the things we came up that week!
Wild Garlic Pesto, Pickled Seaweed Salad, Soda Flat Breads, Mussels in Harissa Cream, Speltotto with Creeny Sheep Cheese, Onogiri, Super Seed Energy Bars, Porridge 3 ways, Spiced Chard, Wild Garlic and Potato Curry, Mezze of Irish hummus with Flat Breads, Curried Lentil and Eggs Sandwiches, Nettle Soup.....and so much more.
And here's a what a few of them looked like!
As the week came to an end we had the pleasure of meeting of Pat Collins a Director that we had been introduced to at the Galway Film Fleadh last year when we got to watch his first feature length film 'Silence', Pat was coming to join the Pilgrim on their last evening in Ardtarmon. They were to go to The Model in Sligo to watch his film ' What We Leave in Our Wake' a film set around Sligo with lots of footage of Pilgrim on Croagh Patrick which the pilgrims had walked earlier that day. Pat arrived for his stay at Ardtarmon and we promptly asked for a lift to town to also take part in that evening experience. He said no problem and after a few dark chocolate digestive and a cup of tea we were en route for Sligo town. For 70 minutes I watched a documentary that spoke volumes to me, I watched people talk about their past, my lands pasts, memories, hopes, opinions on the Church and how we treat what we own. I watched and listened how Pat had found ways in which Ireland had evolved. At the end Pat sat and questions asked. We drove back with Pat and talked about how both Robin and I had at one stage both decided to leave Ireland for good, but circumstances and self-imposed responsibilities kept us both here and how these decisions had changed the course of our lives rather dramatically, I enjoy every moment in that jeep. When we return to Ardtarmon we found out some facts about Pat:
- He has never had pesto
- His wife enjoys pesto
- His first ever pesto was our wild garlic pesto
- He enjoyed his first ever taste of wild garlic pesto
- He swaps DVDs for pesto
Over a cup of tea and some of Krista's bread we finished our chatting and he went into the big house for more discussions (wine)
We were done, tired and looking forward to getting back to our apartment, we departed the following afternoon with Donal once again and arrived home that evening. The week was over we both worked over 70 hours each and we got right back to work. Aoife and Kathy put on an amazing week which I hope the group gained something from. I found that there's a strong possibility that the west of Ireland might be a place I'd like to call home some day. It's a harsh place at times, but so alive. Working with Robin for such and long time and in such intense circumstances cemented what I had already believed that she is a partner I want in the kitchen and most importantly in my life.
Finally I found that I really need to find out more about foraging and soon!