My Summer at home in Ireland this year was filled with all sorts of trials, trips and adventures. I have been documenting lots of the interesting bits (Click on Ireland Chronicles for first installment) since I have come back to the United States, and it is quite an undertaking. Non more so than knowing where to begin my stories about one of my favorite cities, Kilkenny.
Kilkenny is a pleasant 20 minute drive from our house, and it has always been my go-to place if I decide to do something fun last-minute. It has everything I love packed into one walkable metropolis: Art, History, Architecture, and Restaurants. It is known as the Medieval City of Ireland (although the earliest settlement was 6th century) and you can plan a visit every day of the week and experience something different.
I have many stories to relate, but this tiny installment about Kilkenny is focused on a plant that conjured up nothing but bad childhood memories for me until August of this year. It was during Kilkenny Arts Week (next installment!) that I discovered this ecologically hyper-conscious food stall at a food market outside the castle gates called WILD ABOUT Ltd
What made me stop? I have been in so many food markets this year alone, that I tend to walk through them at a pretty fast pace, only stopping if something really grabs my attention. I have become jaded by the trendy Farmer’s Market scene with everyone trying to cash in on organic this and organic that. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean quality or really give you an indication of what their definition of organic is.
This was not the case when I happen to catch a bit of the conversation the owner, Fiona Falconer, was having with a customer at her insanely colourful stall whose psychedelic-ness happen to transfix me for a moment. My eavesdropping turned into looking when I noticed a bottle of something called Nettle Syrup. As I turned it over to find out more about this clear sticky liquid, Fiona was on a passionate cheery rant to a customer about how she and her husband had transformed a minuscule piece of land in County Wexford into a Foragers’ Paradise.
In short, this Dublin native and her Welsh husband, Malcolm, upped and left London and started a Smallholding farm in Ireland. They planted it with every wild indigenous Irish plant known to man, and before they knew it, WILD ABOUT Ltd was born. I loved everything about this woman, and she possessed that special trait which is sometimes the only reason I need to like somebody: passion! To have passion for something is to be alive as far as I’m concerned, no passion, no life.
This laughing, chatty redhead had it in abundance, and it’s what made her products a success. She loved the things she created with her wildly organic ingredients and I couldn’t help being infected by her charisma. Her booth was a hive of activity and she was the Queen Bee.
When we began to chat I knew instantly I would have to write about her farm. She is committed to introducing native wild foods back into the market and insists that if you eat them you will enjoy a longer and healthier life. Her amazing assortment of chutney, jams, jellies, preserves, dressings, and syrups (to name a little of her product line) are made from native Irish plants, most of which are considered SuperFoods. In other words, full of good stuff like calcium, potassium and mineral salts essential for an iron-clad immune system. Being low in calories and nutritionally dense didn’t hurt either.
This could be all very droll too. You know sometimes when you talk to people about food, the new diet craze, nutrition etc, it can be not just boring, but the person you are talking to can come off as an annoying know-it-all. I am interested in healthy food and lifestyle, but I don’t want to be lectured (or worse still, lecture someone else!). It is all very practical stuff, but I think that some people have taken organic and eating right to an elitist level. I suppose my philosophy is that if we ate more like we did a hundred years ago we would all be better off. Easier said than done, I know, but it doesn’t have to be complicated either.
Speaking of simple, let’s finally talk about those stinging nettles in my title. I was drawn to the nettle syrup because when I thought about nettles my skin started to tingle (not in a good way), as I remembered the countless times I accidentally fell, rubbed up against, walked, or was pushed into them. Nettles grew in abundance everywhere: in the field behind our house, along the ditches by the road and in the fields at our little country school where I played and ran. Have you ever been stung by a nettle? It is instant pain and the whole area becomes red and bumpy. My cure when stung was a remedy my foraging friend would have been proud of. I, and everyone I knew would grab another kind of weed, a dock leaf, crush it on a rock to release it’s juice and then apply it to the poor stung body part. It worked great. In Ireland they are not called Stinging nettles, they are simply nettles. Everybody knows they sting!
Fiona told me to taste it in a drink she mixed. All it needed was rum and it was a mojito. She poured from a jug filled with crushed mint leaves, sparkling water, maybe a little lime, and her nettle syrup. It was truly refreshing with the nettle syrup giving everything a leafy, grassy undertone. The only thing she regretted was not being licensed to add some glistening rum. I was sorry about that too!
I tried to buy the nettle syrup but she insisted that it was a gift, and so off I went with the bottle under my arm and the knowledge that there was a farm in County Wexford at the forefront of some new frontier, a frontier that is bound to become the next “new thing” when someone like Taylor Swift happens upon Fiona at some market or other and thinks it is the cutest thing ever!
Check out their website, Wild about and consider stocking up on all things Wild, for you and your friends.