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Simon Dougan: The Breads Of Armagh

‘I am a great believer in using local produce and in Armagh and Northern Ireland generally we have the best. I was brought up in the Armagh countryside, the eldest of nine siblings [eight of whom work in ‘The Yellow Door’ business].

There’s an incredible tradition of baking in this area, perhaps because it has passed down the generations and thus survived the demise of the village bakery. I absorbed that tradition as a young child from my grandmother, Joy, who was a fantastic baker. She used to mix the ingredients together by eye and when I questioned her on the quantities she would say things like, “as much baking soda as will fit in the heart of your hand.’

 

She used an old metal spoon to stir the bread mixture in a bowl, then it would be kneaded and shaped into a long oval, which she marked with a cross, using the back of a knife. When it was baking in her Aga, the whole house was filled with this enticing smell of baking bread. I could never wait for it to cool, the temptation was too great, and would nibble a crusty piece from the corner, hoping she wouldn’t notice. Of course she always did and would scold me for being so impatient.

Even though ‘The Yellow Door’ is famous for its breads, Joy used to come to the deli here with her own freshly baked bread and I loved it. I tried to take down her recipes, every family had a slightly different one for these breads, but, of course, there were no measurements to record!

 

Breads

My grandmother was not a wealthy woman but in her will she left me a few items – her mixing bowl, her metal spoon and the two old porcelain dogs that sat on a shelf above her Aga. They bring back priceless memories of the time I spent with her that sparked my interest in food and changed my life.

We have so many wonderful breads in Northern Ireland, such as wheaten breads, soda farls and potato breads, but in this area I think the breads are particularly special. Perhaps it is not surprising, given this is such a famous fruit growing area, but we have some really delicious examples of fruit breads, like cherry scones, apple turnovers, apple pancakes and Bramley apple potato bread. At the Yellow Door, we also now make a raw cider sourdough, with cider from Long Meadow Cider in Armagh.

One of my favourite local breads is tea brack, which can be found in Armagh City and outlying areas, such as Richhill, but in very few other places, even in Northern Ireland. Essentially, you soak the fruit in tea before baking.

There’s an incredible tradition of baking in this area, perhaps because it has passed down the generations and thus survived the demise of the village bakery.

The Food Heartland Producer group and the Food Heartland Hospitality Forum chef group are both really passionate families of like-minded and talented individuals who get together to champion the wonderful array of world class food and drink we are lucky enough to have in this beautiful and productive part of Ireland.

Simon Dougan, founder of ‘The Yellow Door Deli’ in Portadown, Lisburn and Belfast.

Breads