My family’s adventure in Ireland continued along the Wild Atlantic Way into Clifden (An Clochán), and then with a day-excursion to Inishmore (Inis Mór.) And in this post a recipe for Vanilla Apple Pie, a dessert we enjoyed one rainy evening.
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The Delectable Destination of Ireland began with sights in and around Donegal. This is the trip my mother, sister and I had planned for months and the route we set up had us visiting a new location every day. After visiting Donegal and a lunch in Ballyshannon we headed south to find our next stop – a B&B in Clifden. This would prove to be a much more adventurous drive than we had anticipated. And I was driving.
The first half of the route was fairly uneventful, taking N17 and N5 towards the coast. We reached the town of Westport where our pace was reduced to snail-like as we navigated the charmingly narrow streets of this popular little town. (We actually did circles through town because I had trouble catching the left turn out. I began to feel like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. [maniacal laughter] “I cannot get left!!”)
It was at Westport that we picked up the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500 km scenic route along the western coast of Ireland. It was also at that point that it began to rain: a really heavy, steady downpour of rain, and although the speed was posted in several places as 100 kph (about 62 mph) there were many stretches where I could not go faster than 40 or 50 kph. I felt like I was in a scene in an old movie, turning my steering sheel dramatically from left to right to navigate the curvy road.
From what I could glimpse through rain and white knuckles the scenery was gorgeous: the WAW takes you along cliffs and coast, bays and inlets. The road was tight in several spots, and we saw lots of sheep just hanging by the side of the road – and around a few bends some sheep in the road.
It was approaching dusk when we reached our B&B in Clifden – the Heather Lodge, tucked into the side of a hill. Inside it was plush and comfy with overstuffed armchairs, thick-carpeting underfoot, and a billiards room just off the hall. We didn’t have much time to relax though as we were starving and the owner told us we should get into town quickly before restaurants closed. And back out into the rain we went.
In downtown Clifden we eventually settled in E.J. King’s in a gorgeous restaurant space with stone and wood walls on the second floor above their bar. We had walked a ways in the rain and were drenched. The waitress kindly seated us under a heater (another patron said we were “lucky suckers”) and gave us plenty of hot tea and buttered brown bread! (Tap here to see my recipe for Irish Brown Bread!)
My sister had chicken breast stuffed with cream cheese and spinach in red wine au jus, with chive mashed potatoes. My mother and I had a silky gratin of butternut squash and sweet potato topped with melted Gruyere cheese.
All of the food was very warming and comforting that night! Our desserts included homemade bread and butter pudding and a slice of apple pie.
When the apple pie came it was not like the flaky crust-cinnamony apple pie of home.
This crust had a texture almost like a soft cookie and the apples were white and thick inside. The overall taste was of tart apples and lots of vanilla – it really nice variation on the apple pie we were used to!
As we sat finishing our tea and dessert, I noticed the cool, damp breeze coming in the open window, and the evening rain falling under the streetlamps. Though we had left home in the middle of a sweltering heatwave, in Clifden it felt like lovely late October in Vermont, and I was very wistful for fall!
We were up early the next morning to catch the ferry to the island of Inishmore. We regretted having to leave too early to enjoy a sit-down breakfast at Heather Lodge, but the owner very kindly packed us bags of freshly-baked croissants, scones, and brown bread with jam and butter for the road.
On the drive to Rossaveal to get the ferry someone in the car summed up the week’s driving to that point as “terroristic.” Hmmm.
Inishmore is the largest of the Aran islands, sitting at the mouth of Galway Bay.
Once off the ferry we were a little lost as to where to start, but ultimately hopped on a mini tour bus. Our driver John, a native of Inishmore was a wealth of information about the island and life there. He had spent most of his life fishing until Ireland’s membership in the EU took fishing access away from local fishermen and gave it to foreign fishing operations. Now he does guided tours, expertly navigating the winding, one-lane dirt roads of the island while dodging tourists on bikes, other mini buses and horse-drawn carts.
Most of the people living on the Aran Islands speak Gaelic as their first language, and there is a college on Inishmore where Gaelic is taught.
The overall impression of the island was that of stark beauty. There are fields, small shrubs and trees.
Though there are rock walls in criss-crossing patterns and winding everywhere they are no more than 4 feet tall – which means you can see from one side of the island clear to the other side! You can see all the houses, the cows and sheep, the people walking along the roads, and the ocean on all sides.
John showed us a house owned by a woman from Boston, and admiringly pointed out her large garden, chuckling at the fact that she grows “punkins”. He said the population was as high as 2,500 only a few years ago but was now around 800.
We stopped at the Seven Churches graveyard to explore the remains of two ancient churches (doesn’t match with the name!)
There is a curious mix there of gravesites as old as 8th century and as recent as few years ago.
I found some beautiful Celtic carvings on lichen-crusted pillars,
but what really captured my attention was this sweet kitty that posed for me before returning to his pursuit of a mouse under a gravestone.
John stopped at a small town square of shops and a few cafés, and recommended we try Tigh Nan Phaidi Café.
It is a sweet little spot with flowers trailing from every window box and below the roof edge, white-washed walls and a thatched roof.
There we had brown bread (of course) and a thick, pureed vegetable soup – a nice little pick-me-up before we set out for the trek to Dún Aonghasa fort.
After passing through a courtyard and informational center we came out onto a path.
It stretched ahead for a half-mile, a rocky walkway lined with stone walls and scrubby shrubs leading out to the ancient ring fort at the edge of the sea.
It was impossible to tell from the start of the path what we would find once we got there, but as we grew closer we began to see sheer cliff walls plunging into the ocean with crashing waves.
Once through the doorway into the fort we could see these breathtaking views.The flat rock floor led straight to the cliff’s edge… no fence or barrier of any kind. My mother did not care for that or for how close we wanted to get for pictures!
Some folks were even climbing down the walls to closer to the pounding water. But I loved the view from above.
It was a foggy day that made it impossible to discern where the ocean ended and the sky began.
It felt like you could step off into the mist and float away. (But I did not try it!)
As John drove us back to the ferry landing he pointed out a few other sites: a goat cheese factory, a tower marking the highest point on the island, the last few thatched-roof homes on the island.
He had a endearing way of ending every sentence with “like”.
We visited a few shops at the landing including the Aran Sweater Market for an armload of Irish wool sweaters. Then we headed back to the mainland.
Next post: A quick stop in Galway for dinner then on to Dublin!
More Ireland posts:
See below for Vanilla Apple Pie, inspired by our dessert at E.J.King’s in Clifden!
Vanilla Apple Pie
A sweet and hearty pie made with pâté sucrée pastry and filled with tart apples and vanilla.
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for kneading and work surfaces)
- 2-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 cup butter, cold, unsalted
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 10 McIntosh apples (about 3-1/2 pounds)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Stir together the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Hold this aside.
Make the crust:
Mix together on high speed the butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once they're both in. Mix in the milk until the batter is lumpy like cottage cheese.
Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the butter mixture and stir it in by hand just until the mixture looks crumbly. There will still be pockets of flour visible. Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the contents of the bowl. Squeeze the dough together and knead just a few times until the dough has come together. (A bench scraper is helpful here.) Do not overwork it or the crust will be too tough.
Split the dough in half, flatten each half with your hand and wrap the dough portions in plastic wrap. Place them in the fridge for an hour.
In the meantime, run about 4 cups of cold water into a large bowl. Stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt until it's dissolved. (This will be for the cut apples to keep them from turning brown.)
Peel and core each apple, and slice the apple into 1-inch chunks. (If you're using an apple cutter, cut each wedge into 2 or 3 pieces.) As you cut the apples place the chunks into the salt water and stir them around so that all sides get wet.
When the apples are all cut, have a large saucepan ready on the stovetop. Drain and rinse all of the saltwater off the apples pieces, then place the apples in the saucepan. Add in the remaining 1 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract. Heat the contents over medium heat until the apples begin to simmer. Stir and simmer the apples for about 8 minutes until the apples have softened but still have a little bite in them. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the apple mixture to cool to room temperature.
Assemble the pie:
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Have ready a 9-inch pie dish (I prefer a metal pie plate as they cook the bottom of the pie better.) Place a metal baking sheet in the oven (large enough to hold the pie dish.)
Take one disk of dough from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to about a 12-inch circle, 1/4-inch thick. (Have flour available if bits are sticking to the table. This dough tends to be a little stickier.) Use your rolling pin to help lift the crust into the pie plate. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides, allowing a 1-inch overhang.
Stir the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract and the almond extract into the apple mixture. Spoon the apples into the pie crust and spread them to an even later.
Roll out the second dough disk on a lightly floured surface to 12 inches in diameter, 1/4-inch thick. Lift the dough carefully to the top of the pie. Trim the edge to be just a little longer than the bottom edge, then roll the top edge underneath the bottom edge all around. (If it's too thick in a spot, trim it back a little.)
Cut a few slashes into the top crust to vent the pie. Place the pie in the oven on the hot baking sheet and bake it for about 45 minutes: the top crust should be a light golden brown color. Remove the pie and place it on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes. Slice it and serve, with fresh whipped cream, ice cream, or creme anglaise.
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My Ireland posts are dedicated to my mom Kathy and sister Melissa. I loved our time together in Ireland and I love you both!
Have you tried this Vanilla Apple Pie? Please click the stars at the top of the recipe to rate it and leave a comment for me below!