Failte go Ditty's, Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat...Recession or not, we are still going to have Christmas. Production in the bakery has been stepped up to meet all the orders that result from the added interest in food at this time of year. We supply a number of different hamper companies that pack our oatcakes, shortbreads, mince-pies and puddings along with other gifts in their hampers for people to send to family and friends as well as corporate givers. In addition, our own shops and those we supply on a daily basis nearby are stocking the usual range of mince-pies, cakes and puddings all bursting with rich vine fruit flavours. A favourite among these is the Shanemullagh 'Twice Baked' cake; this cake is one of Robert Ditty's creations and combines traditional recipes to produce a sweet, rich and nutty cake that is only made at the lead-up to Christmas. The cake is made in two parts, an amount of unfruited batter is held back to which is added golden syrup, brazil and hazel nuts, flaked and whole almonds and some lovely French alpine cherries to make a sticky Florentine mixture.This is added to the top of the cake after a first bake and is put back in the oven to finish off - hence the 'twice baked' part of the name. There has to be a health warning with this cake! It is definitely comfort food and can be habit forming - the combination of the sticky sweet and crunchy Florentine top with the soft buttery and fruity part of the rest of the cake is something to experience.
On the 15th November Robert Ditty and chef Bob McDonald gave a demonstration of honey based recipes to around fifty five people gathered under the auspices of Randalstown and District Beekeepers Association. The evening was a great success providing insights on how to make a number of dishes as well as giving an opportunity to try them out on the night and to buy what was left over to take home. The price of the ticket entry, the sale of the food and the proceeds of a raffle combined to make a total of over £850 - all of which will go to Northern Irish charity Gift International for horticultural and beekeeping projects in rural Kenya.
The cafe and shop in Castledawson is undergoing a 'makeover' at present with much of the shelving and shop stock being removed to make way for more tables and chairs to allow for an expansion of the cafe. From around sixteen, the cafe can now seat thirty people. New tables and chairs have been brought in and the decor has been changed to a contrasting but effective combination of battleship grey and acid green. Over recent months, Bob McDonald has been working with Amanda in the cafe kitchen and Robert to change the recipes involved in the savoury pies, pasties and slices. The new recipes have involved a stripping back to basic and simple, high quality ingredients that are allowed to make their own statements in terms of flavour and texture - complemented by Robert Ditty's light, flaky and tasty puff pastry! These are available in the cafe to eat in, or they can be bought 'over the counter' to take away. Coffee, tea and other drinks as well as sandwiches can be bought to eat in the cafe or to take away. Santa's sleigh is now on display in the cafe area loaded with produce representing the festive season.
Ditty's is a member of an organisation known as Good Food Ireland, in fact Robert Ditty was one of the founder members and sits on the steering committee. It was Good Food Ireland's annual conference on Tuesday 22nd November held in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. At this event a number of producers, including Ditty's were invited to showcase their products at breakfast and at lunchtime. This involved Ditty's in providing lightly fried mini soda farls, potato bread and pancakes to be offered to delegates to complement the hot smoked bacon, black pudding, drisheen, oak-smoked salmon, soft goats cheese and cranberry roulade and brie cheeses being offered by other producers on adjoining tables. The event was topped off by a dinner served by the hotel and an award ceremony with presentations being made by guest of honour An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. Good Food Ireland represents the interests not only of food producers but also of retailers, restrauters, hoteliers, publicans and anyone involved in producing quality artisanal or craft based food or beverage products. The theme of this year's conference was on 'Irishness' as a brand and how best we can use this to promote ourselves. We have a distinctive language and a number of speakers made reference to this including Senator Seamus Quinn, founder of the well respected SuperQuinn chain of supermarkets. From the simple "Failte..." - welcome in Irish - he described how he pushed the language boundaries in his stores as a distinctive and successful marketing tool. Other speakers made reference to our climate, bountiful rain and the growing conditions it creates, especially in relation to grass and the fact that we can produce beef, lamb and dairy products like no other, simply because animals can be grass fed for much of the year. Good Food Ireland engenders a great sense of fellowship and collaboration amongst its members and the day as a whole had an uplifting effect - but the real point of the event was not just about a 'feel-good factor' it was to remind us all just how important food and its production is to the Irish economy, North and South, and what we all have to do to ensure our continued growth and impact on both the domestic and world market. Slan Abhaile - safe home.