Litfest 2016 and a Clover cake

Last weekend, I travelled to Cork after being roped into volunteering at Litfest, a literary festival of food and wine. The festival takes place in Ballymaloe, the food enthusiast’s mecca; famed for courses on Irish cuisine and a prolificacy of cookery books that span three generations of Ballymaloeans — including Myrtle Allen, Darina Allen and Rachel Allen.

Ballymaloe House is located deep in the lush green East Cork countryside. It is an enchanting setting; sprawling fields, surrounding woodland, and a romantic walled garden. It includes a prestigious cookery school, an impressive hotel, and stunning grounds. A number of functional outbuildings and extensive grounds make Ballymaloe ideal for a festival such as Litfest.

What followed was an enchanting and rather inspirational weekend of knowledge shared, flavours explored, countless cocktails imbibed and falafels devoured (Rocketman falafel is a near-religious experience. Trust me.) The food enthusiast’s dream — my palate is worn out after all the action.

My rather relaxed duties lay within the Drinks Theatre, a converted tractor shed where we hosted Masters of Wine, whiskey connoisseurs, and a variety of movers and cocktail shakers within the drinks industry. Of particular interest to me was a talk and tasting by Jancis Robinson MW, and, unexpectedly, a fascinating tasting of non-alcoholic fermented drinks by Virginia O’Gara of My Goodness.

Apart from the myriad delectable edibles and drinkables, there was a series of short talks in the Grainstore that I found interesting and occasionally captivating; (particularly Francis Mallmann’s tales of primal, passionate grilling) These were essentially stories of our food; from experts, authorities, cooking masters, farmers… Enjoyable and thought-provoking, while being short enough to hold your full attention for the duration — my kind of presentation.

I found myself travelling vicariously through taste, as I moved about the buzzing hub of the ‘Big Shed’; where stallholders dished out every kind of cuisine you can imagine, from raw vegan burritos, to seaweed gazpacho, to halloumi on a stick. That halloumi thing was phenomenal, by the way. It came from Toonsbridge cheesemongers — one of the a couple of artisan producers that really impressed me with their products and passion. They also really impressed me with their selection of free samples.

I spent some time talking with the makers of Wilkie’s chocolate. They make Irish small batch bean-to- bar organic dark chocolate that blows me away; smooth, simple but with incredible depth. They don’t use any flavours or emulsifiers so that the pure character of the cocoa bean shines through. I was really impressed by Shana’s integrity and talent.

From rustic rough-and- ready to fancy foodie fare, everyone was catered for that weekend. The atmosphere was fantastic — due in part to the (mostly) perfect weather, but also because the event included everyone; it was devoid of pretension, was multi-generational, and had food to fit every palate. At the risk of sounding incredibly cliché — I was happy to be a part of it.

The weekend’s events served as a reminder to me that food culture and appreciation is alive and well in Ireland, and perhaps stronger than ever before. People are becoming more aware and interested in food provenance, and the renewal of traditional food cultures.

The festival inspired me to get the the very roots of Irish food — simple, fresh, frugal, foraged. And while my grain-free, sugar-free, high-protein baking may not fit with the old Irish tradition - you gotta get with the times, yo. And so it was that I scrambled around in hedgerows gathering the ubiquitous Clover flower.

Photos by Nadine Eckmann

Clover flowers are currently flowering (May to September) The little pink, red, and even purplish florets have a nectar at the base which gives them a slight sweetness, and I thought their delicate perfume would work well paired with raspberry. They are healthy too — containing protein, beta carotene, vitamin C, and many B vitamins. When gathering these flowers, pick young flowers, twisting at the base to release the petals carefully.

This cake is wonderfully moist, light, and sweet. It is high in protein, grain-free, sugar-free, high-fibre, and low in carbohydrates. It is an easy recipe, and comes together in a matter of minutes, but you will need a food processor or blender to break up the petals into the mixture. If you need ideas for substitutions, please do contact me and I’ll do my best to make the cake suit your needs/ taste/ lack of crazy ingredients.

Makes 1 small cake (4-5 servings)
● 1 cup red clover flower petals (washed and detached from the stem)
● 120g cottage cheese
● 1 medium egg
● 60g raspberries
● 50g Vitafiber powder
● 35g coconut flour
● 15g vanilla protein powder
● 40g erythritol
● 120mg stevia extract (or more erythritol/ xylitol)
● 25g coconut oil
● 1 tsp baking powder
● ¼ tsp baking soda
● Cashews (optional)

1. Pre-heat your oven to 170C. If you don’t have a silicon baking pan (highly recommended) grease, or line your cake pan of choice with parchment paper.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients.
3. Add your clover petals to your food processor with the cottage cheese, coconut oil, egg, and raspberries, Blend.
4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the food processor and give the batter a final short mix. 
5. Pour into your cake pan, sprinkle with cashews, and bake for around 30 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.