As someone who has worked in food and hospitality for two decades, I have heard the phrase “food community” used a lot in my day-to-day life. So much so, in fact, that I hardly ever stop to think about what it actually means.
When I visited Co Antrim (with Irish Farmers Journal photo editor Philip Doyle) for our photoshoot with artisan baker Ciara O’Hartghaile, I immediately felt good vibes when I walked through the doors of her and husband Dara’s bakehouse, Ursa Minor. Patrons were chatting away – even between tables – making me think a lot of them were regulars. Ciara was chatting to a family visiting from another part of Ireland.
They were having such a good chat, I didn’t want to interrupt to tell her I had arrived. Her staff behind the counter were laughing and joking with customers while making coffees and throwing loaves of sourdough in paper bags.
Her shelves were lined with food products from both Northern Ireland and the Republic. None of this was ‘put on’ because they knew a camera would soon be arriving. This is just how she and Dara designed their space. It was never meant to be quiet or formal.
It was never meant to be anything more than it was: somewhere people can gather to spend time over coffee and pastries.
A place where their food ethos could be put into action, using native flours in their breads and featuring local products on their shelves. They regularly host community dinners and other special events. This is a food community within a community – and it’s all happening in rural Northern Ireland.
My visit to Ciara, and to Antrim, inspired me to start thinking about how we can develop our own food community in our small village and on our family farm. As a Canadian living in an adopted country and among people who are not blood relatives, nothing has made me feel more at home and accepted than when I can share food – with strangers, with friends, with kids or adults.
So this Christmas, to continue developing my own little food community, I am keeping up our food traditions with family and friends. I will make a Christmas cake for my neighbour, a bottle of eggnog for my good friend, seafood chowder and French Canadian tourtière on Christmas Eve in honour of my traditions from home, and will make ham and turkey and sticky toffee pudding on Christmas Day, in honour of my newer Irish ones.
I hope you also take some time to honour your food traditions this festive season, and perhaps try a few recipes from this magazine. We always love to hear from our readers, so if you attempt a recipe or two, be sure to let me know how they went. Wishing you and yours a special food-filled Christmas.