The final of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster’s home management competition took place in Dungannon Integrated College last Tuesday night.
An initial 500 entries were wittled down to eight finalists. Alongside Calor, the Northern Ireland Pork and Bacon forum were the main sponsors and contestants were asked to prepare a pork main course, using NI pork and bacon, and a dessert to follow.
This was my third year of judging the competition and the standard has just got better and better with every year.
Cooking competitions can be extremely nerve racking – turning up in a strange kitchen, where you don’t know the equipment would challenge the most seasoned chef. These competitors seemed to take it all their stride – the Young Farmers’ Clubs seems to instil a confidence and calm in their members. Each allocated area quickly filled up with serving dishes, pots and pans and lots of great local produce. Comber Earlies, quite rightly, accompanied every pork dish, alongside leeks, new season tomatoes, leeks and scallions. Desserts were an equal celebration of local ingredients with rhubarb, apple and gooseberries featuring.
After a couple of hours cooking in a red hot kitchen, restaurant worthy dishes appeared for judging. Anyone who puts gooseberries or rhubarb on their menu gets my vote, especially now that they’re in season. Gooseberries and elderflowers are serendipitously both in full flow at the moment and Caroline Barr, from Garvagh YFC featured them both in a fool. She accompanied them with brandy snap biscuits. These are tricky at the best of times but she carried them off with aplomb. She substituted the traditional element of golden syrup with a local honey, produced by Hugh Moore of Castleroe, outside Coleraine. Hugh must keep his hives near a well stocked garden as the floral fragrance was outstanding and a winning addition to Caroline’s dessert.
Caroline has kindly shared her recipe for the fool and brandy snaps. Another standout for me was Nicola Mitchell’s chocolate brownies. Brownies usually eat better when they’ve rested for a few hours, but Nicola’s were perfect – served warm with cream and strawberries and she’s also supplied her recipe. I’ll be featuring the other winning recipes over the next few weeks but congratulations to junior winner Caroline Barr and senior winner Stephanie McCollam from Lylehill YFC.
The juniors had to cook gammon as part of their brief and I’ve included my recipe for potted gammon this week – slowly cooked gammon shredded and pressed with the vegetables its cooked with and lots of parsley. It makes a great summer lunch starter or cold main dish. Gooseberries aren’t around for long and the spiced gooseberry chutney recipe I’ve added to accompany the gammon is equally as good now with a summer lunch as it would be in mid winter with game or roasts.
Well done to all the competitors of the home management competition – the future of food here is bright with them in the driving seat.