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13/11/ 2011 Food bloggers trip to Keelings Bramley apple orchards

I grew up in a house with an apple tree in the back garden.  Every childhood summer I remember our bellies being full of apple crumble, apple tart, stewed apples and many variations on the theme.  We even have a family joke revolving around apples - it came from one of my first boyfriends who happily told my mother that sometimes he ate stewed apples ‘just for fun’ – a phrase which has stuck with our family for years longer than the boyfriend ever did.  I do now wonder, did I maybe over dose on apples in my early years as they aren’t a regular feature of my diet these days.

However, it was a nervous DFG who recently responded to call out to food bloggers by Bord Bia to join them on a tour of Keelings orchards and packing facilities, nr Swords. I joined the group at Clarehall on Saturday morning (along with thousands of teenage girls queuing to see The Wanted!) hopping onto a mini-bus and coming face to face with other bloggers for the first time! What fun! Everyone I met over the course of the whole day was so friendly, and how great to be able to chat happily about food, restaurants and markets without worrying that you’re boring someone.

Upon arrival at Keeling’s we were immediately given tea and Bramley apple cake – cor, what a cake.  Soft and moist with a beautiful tartness just coming through from the apples.  So delicious I’ve put the recipe up and I can’t wait to have a go at making it.

Food bloggers trip to Keelings Bramley apple orchards
Pork fillet, potato and apple bake
Onward we headed to the orchards to meet James Gregory (Technical Manager).  James took us straight into the orchards and gave us an insightful briefing about apples – the different varieties, the root systems, the Irish eating habits (who knew we’d stopped eating green apples and it’s all about the bi-colour?!), the process they go through and the direction Keelings are moving in.  Really interesting and it was great to see how passionate he was.

On again and into the warehouse to see the prototype packing machine that they use for packing their apples, and not to sound too nerdy, but it was fascinating!  Huge crates of apples are dunked into water, whereby they all float along through the packaging process where they are quality checked (twice), dried and sorted by size (for example M&S like bigger Bramley’s than Tesco  – then they carrying along on the conveyor belt and roll into the bags that are ready and waiting. 

Once the tour was over our main guide Fiona Fitzgerald (Marketing at Keelings) brought us back to the office, and the wonderful Trisha and Madeline (Bord Bia organised chefs) had cooked up a feast. Trisha did a cooking demonstration for us, making great use of the Keelings produce.  We had a pork fillet, potato and apple bake (pictured) with an apple and blackberry sauce and a pork shoulder with apple and cider stew which was served with a beautiful crispy garlic and breadcrumb topping – all served with mounds of mash and salad.  As I said, a feast!

Aside from the actual tour, a strange take home from the day for me was to learn that Keelings grow and sell 9 million bell peppers each year.  I had no idea that I could go into Tesco and buy Irish peppers – but I certainly will now.  In addition Keelings can now grow and provide Irish grown strawberries from March right through to December.  If today has taught me anything, it’s to make sure I look more carefully at what Irish produce is available even at the most commercial of places i.e. Tesco!

I must say a big thank you to Michal (Bord Bia) for organising, Fiona and James at Keelings and Trisha and Madeline the chefs.  Extra big thank you to Keelings for the lovely goodie bags that we got – I’m off to eat some apples that I stewed last night.  Just for fun.