A series of only-in-Ireland driving instructions led Liam and me to the McDonnell farm…
“If you get into town, you’ve gone too far.”
“Turn at the yellow house with the black trim, not the yellow house with the red trim.”
“It won’t look like you’re on the right road, but you are.”
“You’ll pass a ruined wall.”
“Turn at the sign for Rathkeale, but do not confuse with the sign that says Glin/Combat Zone” (I’m still confused by that one).
As we pulled in, a large dog – an Airedale – sprung from the side of the house to greet us, and Imen McDonnell waved us in from the front door. We were quickly acquainted with the dog named Teddy and Imen’s son Geoffrey who was proudly five years old.
Rewarding us for the journey – even if it was only an hour and twenty minutes – Imen assembled champagne cordials with a syrup she crafted from hand-picked stinging nettles. Between sips of sweet bubbles, the conversation quickly bounced from the locality to local foods to our shared roots in the American Midwest to life in our adopted home of Ireland.
A nostalgic, yet modern Irish farm
After chores, Imen’s Irish husband Richard arrived and offered a tour of the family farm. Although the McDonnell’s worked this land in County Limerick for generations, Richard and his brother were bringing the family operations into the twenty-first century. We toured the site where footings had been poured for two enormous windmills. Then it was off to one of the dairy barns where robots milked the cows and sent text messages if a cow didn’t show up for milking or didn’t eat properly or had a fever. From there we shifted to the chicken barn where a hatch of fluffy, yellow chicks had arrived that day and pecked at fresh organic feed. Our last stop took us to a large, squat silo that was specially designed to convert farm waste and commercial kitchen waste into usable energy that was sold to the electric company.
I had been raised on a dairy farm, and this place had many of the old-fashioned elements I found familiar. But I was drawn in by the impressive list of innovations I’d be relaying to my dad on our next phone call… he still loves to talk farming whether it’s old-school or new-school.
There will be a great feast
Returning from the farm tour, we spotted Imen zipping around the kitchen putting the finishing touches on dinner. She insisted she would not fuss over us, but a quick rundown of the menu revealed she prepared a mighty feed…
moonblushed tomato, goat’s cheese, and rocket
grass-fed Angus t-bones from the farm with Irish whiskey butter
grilled lemon-garlic asparagus spears
roughed-up rosemary roasty potatoes
boozy Italian summer trifle
Every bite tasted delicious. Every sip left my lips smacking. And every minute of conversation rolled into the next. Together, we ate and drank and laughed until we long passed the other side of midnight.
One accomplishment after another
Since that day in 2010, Imen made us guinea pigs for a lobster recipe she picked up from the fishmonger at the Limerick Milk Market; she and Geoffrey became butter celebrities with Butter Aerobics at Ireland’s Electric Picnic; her blog was highlighted as one of the best by Saveur; she produced a wonderful Irish food documentary titled “Small Green Fields;” she taught cooking classes at the famed Ballymaloe House; she coordinated exquisite food and photography retreats with Lens and Larder; and if that’s not enough, she wrote one of the most enchanting cookbooks to come from the Emerald Isle.
A glorious Irish cookbook
The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm combines a spellbinding combination of recipes and stories from Imen’s life in rural Ireland. It’s one of those cookbooks that doubles as both a recipe guide and a collection of charming tales. On one page I find myself chuckling at her Irish family’s reaction to American pumpkin pie; on the next page I’m discovering the history of Ireland’s Halloween barmbrack bread.
The morning after opening the copy I gave my sister for Christmas, she announced, “Only made it to page 75 and I already found 14 recipes I wanna try.” And it’s true, the recipes are diverse and appealing… and made even better by Imen’s natural ability to stir in the Irish stories that accompany each ingredient.
The book is available in digital format, but this is one edition you’d probably enjoy in glorious hardcover.
- Imen’s blog: www.farmette.ie
- Buy the book: The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm