The Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust along with the Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership have long been proponents of ‘local’, ‘traditional’ and ‘sustainable’. One of their most recent projects has been the Artisan Connect Programme which was aimed at creating and strengthening the links between artisans and local retail and hospitality outlets. The project manager, Melanie Brown, is one half of the North Coast Smokehouse and so knows the necessity of creating those links as well as the difficulties in doing so.
The work of the project over the last few months culminated in a Trade Craft fair at the Marine Hotel on Monday 26th from 6 -9pm. There were almost 30 food and craft artisans who were meeting over 66 local business customers from all over the Causeway Coastal Route from Larne to Limavady and from B&B’s, to shops, to hotels. It was an excellent turn out and the buzz generated was electric. I was there as part of the Glens of Antrims tourism group who were having their monthly meeting at the Marine that evening, held to coincide with the Artisan Connect programme. This was an inspired idea as it brought together many tourism facing businesses with these local foods and crafts – there were many excited conversations started as people discovered new foods or crafts right on their doorstep.
What are the benefits of working with local food and craft producers? Many and varied – from trust in the provenance, to faith in the quality, to creating interesting stories for your guests, to incubating a thriving local economy which is cost effective and diverse. The food producers were as varied as Broughgammon Farm goat to The Woman Next Door’s chutneys, from Amazin’ Grazin’ breads to Granny Shaw’s fudge (and too many more to mention – we do good food here in the Causeway Coast and Glens!); and crafts people including Taisie Turning and their Dark Hedges and Bushmills Distillery range, from Meltz candles to Artisan glass, from jewellery to soap. This diversity of product means that visitors experience such an amazing, interesting, fabulous place to visit.
As an example of the connections created, Roseanne Cecil from Blackthorn and Willow, a delicatessen and craft shop in Glenarm, found a supplier of gluten free bread mixes which will compliment her own bread making workshops perfectly. She was also keen on finding locally sourced and produced bread boards and cheese platters.
Sharon Schindler from Shola B&B explained that ‘they do 4 simple dishes, extremely well’. It’s why they use an award winning local butchers and were interested in meeting Niall Delargy from Glenballyeamon Eggs as well as others. (Perhaps that’s also why they’re a 5* B&B?)
The National Trust were also there, and Bob Kane, the Giant’s Causeway Shop manager explained that they were keen to introduce even more local suppliers into their current range which is so popular with visitors.
All of this means that this area thrives and grows, taking traditions into the future and giving employment to many.
Thank you to all concerned for a great evening and an even better future.
To find some gems for yourself, visit the Naturally North Coast and Glens Markets held regularly across the borough. (See below)
In my quest to find and hear local food stories to enhance all that we do in Irish Feast food tours, I stopped off at Betty’s house (she wants to be anonymous so I’ll use ‘Betty’) to talk about seaweed and her experience of it growing up. She’s ‘from the shore’ and so knows about these things - I’m from the Glens and fish came from rivers or the fish man’s van on a Friday. Or occasionally Ballintoy Harbour if Dad got ‘red up’ (finished) early. Why the people of Dunluce, Dunseverick and Port Bradden should be ‘from the Shore’ rather than any other dwellers near the sea round here, lord alone knows. That’s just how it is.
(The silver spoon pictured is a treasured heirloom with salmon and a local boat (a 'drontheim') smithed into it.)
Betty invited me in to her perfect house - so clean, neat, tidy and yet so very welcoming and artistic. I may have a slight girl crush, if I’m totally honest.
We talked of carrageen moss - how it was picked, and where and the puddings they made from it.
We talked about dulse and how, in local lore, it tasted better if dried in the place it had been picked. Sounds possible, but could also have been a way for the shore people to keep as much of the dulse industry to themselves as possible! They’re a very sensible, hard headed people, the people from the shore.
We talked of sloke (sloak?) which was cooked in butter and turned bright green; of mealie crushie which was pin meal cooked in bacon fat and fast boiled ‘leap’ whelks added at the last minute. Something like couscous, she reckons, but sounds an awful lot tastier to me!
This led to talking about salmon (Port Bradden is Port of the Salmon) which, she said, was the traditional meal on 12th July. It was started about midday - covered in cold water with a bunch of parsley, some celery and leeks (grown in her garden of course), brought to the boil, then turned off and allowed to cool until 5pm, when they’d eat it with baby boiled potatoes, home made mayonnaise and tartar sauces. Her cooking philosophy is ‘If people don’t die, I make it again’. Blatantly never going to happen - she’s a fabulous cook but I might just steal the line for my own style of ‘cuisine’!
At this point, Betty asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Now, I knew that this was never going to be ‘a cup in my hand’ but a proper tea with scones etc. but even so, when she asked if I fancied a bowl of soup, too, I answered, ‘ach, maybe just a wee one’. Greed, sheer greed. Did I mention how good a cook Betty is?
Well, the soup was a gorgeous, filling vegetable soup - far better then I make. Full of soft pulses and bright vegetables, smelling amazing, tasting even better. And the ‘cup of tea’ afterwards..!! Oh my. Look at the photo! She can bake even better than she can cook. I recommend making friends with Irish women like Betty - they don’t cook ‘fancy’ but my lord they cook GOOD! A real Irish Feast!