Here in Northern Ireland we’re blessed with an abundance of local products that reflect our environment, as well as fertile farmland and a climate that is conducive to great food. When we talk about local cuisine the first thing that comes to mind is the Ulster Fry.
It’s almost a showcase of what’s on offer. We still have a very strong bakery sector and this is reflected in the potato and soda bread. Bacon and sausages are testament to our love affair with the humble swine, while the eggs holds up our poultry sector. There’s a dose of good Ulster thrift in the black pudding and a disregard for any health warnings when the traditionalists insist that it be fried in lard.
Like any traditional dish, it hearkens back to a time when a massive breakfast would soon be worked off in the field or factory – and while it’s far from ideal in today’s more sedentary lifestyle, as an infrequent treat it’s hard to put down.
When in the bakery let’s hear it for wheaten bread. Our dairy herds produce more milk than we could ever drink, so it finds our way into this healthy wholemeal product. It’s a rare high street that doesn’t include a family run, traditional bakery, and each is a treasure trove full of delicacies like the Jammy Joe, the Gravy Ring or the Belfast Bap.
The vegetable roll is another local treat you can find in the butchers, and while much maligned as a cheap filler, it’s combination of brisket and rib meat and fresh veg wouldn’t be far out of place on a fancy restaurant menu while the Ulster pastie is a very different beast from it’s Cornish namesake, and one of the true delights of guilty dining.
Blessed are the cheese makers and with that abundance of milk, we’ve got some cracking stuff on offer, especially from artisan producers like the Fancy Cheese Co. and it‘s acclaimed Young Buck, or Causeway Cheese on the North Coast.
And while we’re on the North Coast a trip to the Oul Lammas Fair could net you Yellow Man, our take on classic toffee or Dulse – testament to the frugal nature of our forbears, who could find a delicious snack drying out on the beaches of our coast.
Comber spuds are one of our finest products and can find their way into the oven to be roasted, chips with everything and included in champ, which is another national dish – comfort food at it’s finest with lashings of butter and plenty of scallions.
With tourism on the rise and visitors looking an authentic taste of Northern Ireland, restaurants and delicatessens are turning towards local product, and with a world beating set of flavours available, there’s no reason not to explore what we have on our doorstep.
When you hear the word allotment, you instantly think of put–upon middle aged men escaping from ‘her indoors’ in any amount if clichéd classic comedies, or hoary gardeners defending their prize marrows from jealous rivals and rampaging pests. Yet they’re still very much alive and well, with more and more people recognising the benefits of growing your own, and having a patch to call your own.
There are currently seven allotments in the greater Belfast area, with each one run by a committee, and with an overall waiting list administered by Belfast City Council. The scheme differs from the series of community gardens across the city. With an allotment comes more responsibility, but a greater deal of autonomy.
The concept of the allotment dates back to Saxon times, but it was only with the industrial revolution and the mass movement of workers into the cities that it truly took off – these people needed fed, and a plot of land helped supplement a meagre diet.
It was during the world wars that the allotment came into it’s own – and you’ll still hear older users in some parts of the country refer to them as Victory Gardens – harkening back to the days of Dig For Victory. With U–Boats blockading the British Isles every patch of spare land became a battleground, where you could strike a blow against the enemy by contributing towards self–sufficiency and living up your weekly rations.
Allotment popularity comes in circles – the oil crisis of the 70’s and the three day week saw another surge in the popularity of growing your own, memorably portrayed in the classic sitcom The Good Life. With recent economic events and a surge in interest in sustainable produce there’s bound to be another peak in demand for an allotment.
The concept remains a simple one, – you pay rent on a patch of land anything between £22 to £125 annually) and, within the rules of the allotment, you’re pretty much free to grow whatever you want. The studies have shown that there are health benefits, both physical and mental to growing your own produce, even before the boost to your diet. Socially, mentally and in terms of relaxation, an allotment repays the work you put in several times over.