Barmbrack and Pumpkins. Halloween is here!
Hickey’s bakery in Clonmel makes one of Ireland’s best and most popular barmbracks. The bakery has been in business in the same premises since 1900 when the current owner Nuala Hickey’s great grandparents started baking their bread. Hickey’s has survived and thrived since then, no mean feat for a sole trader in today’s economy. Nuala joined her family’s business straight from school twenty years ago and has expanded and perfected their production since whilst keeping the quality they offer the community in tact. All reasons why they are the perfect example of the true artisan businesses Ardkeen Quality Food Store supports and promotes.
When I was working on my book about Irish food and cookery, Nuala had a “famous” Hickey’s Barm Brack couriered to me in 24 hours for a photo. What was even more touching was the cute little handwritten label accompanying the beautifully wrapped, precious package which read, “Trish, a little taste of home.” It was another example of the detail and care that go into Hickey’s creations and we snapped it for the book as well as the barm brack itself!
Barm brack, like Colcannon and apple tart, is traditionally eaten at Halloween in Ireland and today can contain all sorts of hidden charms, coins and little jewels. (I always remember my teeth tingling on the silver foil covering the coin my mother would hide in her fantastic apple tart.) In the VERY old days, there would be a piece of rag, a ring or a coin inside the barm brack loaf. A rag did not bode well for future finances, but a coin did. Finding the ring in your slice meant romance was on its way. Hickey’s Bakery hides a cute little ring in theirs, so it’s more about who will be lucky ….or lucky! But no excuses are really needed to keep slicing again and again into the dense, fruity interior. Moist and spicy, Hickey’s brack is delicious simply toasted or not alongside some good, strong tea for elevenses or afternoon tea. I’ve played around with it for fun in a couple of recipes which will bring it onto a lunch or dinner table from the tea time tray for a Halloween themed gathering.
Also on the menu this October, pumpkins! I find them to be such beautiful objects – even without any elaborate or scary carving - and often use small white or pattypan squash to decorate the house and my autumnal tables.
In France le potiron is popular most of the year, with large slices always on sale for soups and stews. It has only been for the past 15 or 20 years that the French have adopted what they consider to be an American custom of the (Irish!) Jack O’Lantern carved-out pumpkin warding off wandering evil spirits on the 31st of October. I find squash a challenging vegetable to cook in tasty ways – a little like Swiss chard, any that I have been presented with so far can be bland and watery and needs a lot of attention to be made into anything particularly interesting. Perhaps I will have my mind changed by some of the fantastic Irish gardeners I know are coaxing on a few squash at the moment.
Pumpkin flesh, on the other hand, I love. It is wonderful in tarts, risottos and roasted with other vegetables. I have thought up two easy recipes which make the most of its sweet silkiness.