The vexation of an itinerant Scot – #PerfectPorridge in Ireland:
What was I doing getting on a plane to fly to Cork? Every Scottish lassie (even those who have lived most of their life in London) knows the best porridge comes from Scotland. The ‘backbone of many a sturdy Scotsman’, I grew up on porridge made with water and salt, dressed with a little jam or honey and if I was lucky with a dollop of top of the milk. National pride apart, migration over the centuries of the Irish to Scotland (and at various times in history, of Scottish people back to Ireland) means there is much in common between the countries. Both Scottish and Irish Gaelic originates from Old Irish, there are commonalities in cuisine, from black pudding to rubbledethumps or colcannon and both Irish and Scottish men wear kilts – though I have no idea whether the Irish keep with tradition;).
What about oats though? It turns out the Irish do a pretty good job there too. It’s the climate of Southern Ireland which makes it particularly suited to growing oats. Oats need less sun and tolerate more rain than many other cereal crops and so have formed the mainstay food for countries like Scotland and Ireland.
Flahavan’s oat mill is based in the village of Kilmacthomas, a small village sheltered by the Comeragh mountains and just a few miles from the sea. It’s a part of Ireland where the temperate microclimate makes it particularly suitable for growing oats so that the mill can source all of its conventional oats from within a 50 mile radius of Kilmacthomas. Seven generations of the Flahavan family have run a mill here and John Flahavan still runs the business, helped by his son James. We have an opportunity to dine with the Flahavan family and are delighted by the oaty menu which included soup thickened with oats, a meat and oatmeal lasagne and a crumble with a crunchy oatmeal topping.
It’s a great endorsement for the brand when the family who own and run the mill use their own products so thoroughly; Mary, our hostess and John’s wife,has produced a recipe booklet and many of her other recipes are on the Flahavan’s website. Worth trying as a substitute for wheat, oats are a healthy ‘superfood’ which can help lower cholesterol and which, with a relatively low GI, will help keep you feeling full for longer.
Visiting the mill itself, we find a production process that is is semi-automated but still depends on human beings to ensure the perfect porridge oats. Meeting some of the staff it becomes clear that the mill is very much part of the community too. Stephen, for example, started here aged 13 after he pestered John Flahavan for a job. Fifty years later, he is still going strong – and the mill celebrated his contribution in style last year.
The old part of the mill is where the oats are processed. First the husks are removed from the oats, then rather than being wasted, are burnt to provide steam for kilning and cooking.
The grain is then shelled, cleaned and polished.
Here the processes alter depending on what the end product will be.
Jumbo rolled oats are made by softening the oat grains with steam before rolling them to create a large, flakey oatmeal.
Pinhead oats are made by chopping the grain in two or three. Oats can be are dried and left in this format. Pinhead oats are perfect for nutty oat biscuits . You canalso use these for porridge, either alone or mixed with oatmeal to give a creamier result
Steaming and rolling pinhead oats creates standard rolled oats, the sort most people will eat for breakfast.
Milling pinhead oats still further creates oatmeal or oat flour both of which can be used for cooking as a substitute for wheat flour.
Everything is then packed for distribution in Flahavan’s distinctive tins and bags.
There’s a slightly retro feel to the design, it looks perfect on the old Ford delivery van parked outside the mill. And there’s a real feel of community about the place. I get the feeling that if you happened to drive through Kilmacthomas or Dungarvan and asked anyone in the street about Flahavan’s you’d get a positive response.
Dinner and breakfast at The Tannery restaurant seems like an extension of a big family affair, with John and James Flahavan joining us in the evening and with Paul Flynn himself cooking us his own version of #perfectporridge for breakfast. Everyone has something to share, everyone seems intent on making us feel welcome. Dinner at the Tannery is worth a separate post – exquisite food including the only surf and turf I’ve ever enjoyed;).
With many thanks to our hosts, John and Mary Flahavan and Paul Flynn for a great insight into traditional Irish oat production and traditional Irish hospitality.