This Cork woman's picnic boxes are going down a treat

During lockdown Niamh Hegarty had a brainwave — to provide fresh, organic picnic baskets to the individuals and families who are enjoying staycations in Ireland this summer, writes CHRIS DUNNE
This Cork woman's picnic boxes are going down a treat
Niamh Hegarty of Niamh's Larder

EAST Cork woman, Niamh Hegarty, had a lightbulb moment during the pandemic — and came up with a novel idea.

“I had a brainwave during lockdown!” says Niamh, aged 27.

“With everyone making the best of the great scenic outdoors at the seaside, the forests, the mountains, the lakes and the rivers, I came up with the idea of providing fresh organic picnic boxes for couples, families and individuals who are enjoying staycations in Ireland this summer.”

Niamh’s Larder provides local, fresh, and where possible, organic vegetarian food boxes, packaged and delivered in compostable packaging.

Niamh, of Churchtown South, prepares the food herself and she even grows some of the produce.

Food boxes can suit families, couples and groups looking forward to enjoying a great day out during the expected spells of fine weather at the beach, out walking, exploring the countryside, or at home.

“With people taking advantage of the weather and doing a lot of day trips, I thought a tasty healthy lunch or brunch already prepared and packaged would appeal to people,” says Niamh.

“I started delivering the boxes early on a Sunday morning earlier this month and I was inundated with orders. I was blown away by the response!” says a delighted Niamh.

“It took off from the get-go. My first order was from the Warming Wagon mobile beach sauna in Inch Beach that was holding an event for people at the weekend. I was on the road delivering boxes all over East Cork.

“I deliver picnic boxes within a 15 km radius from Cloyne village. Delivery is free.”

A lot of us are tired and weary trying for weeks and months to perfect variations of porridge bread and banana bread.

“That’s right!” says Niamh, laughing.

“People want a break from baking and cooking in the kitchen and wish to make better use of their leisure time getting out and about, especially after lockdown and for people who had to cocoon.

“Many people are still cocooning in their own homes and they are really welcoming home deliveries of a picnic box with sweet and savoury delights to eat.”

Every box reveals a potpourri of delicious locally sourced and home- made goodies.

One of Niamh's picnic boxes.
One of Niamh's picnic boxes.

“A box filled with sweet and savoury choices appeals to every palate and the picnic boxes are a treat and a novelty for children,” says Niamh.

“And they are fun for children too, discovering what’s in the box when they open it up.”

Traditionally, the picnic lunch portrayed a romantic picture beside an immaculate glade by a clear stream, which happened mostly in the movies. I tell Niamh any attempted foray into dining al fresco with my family involved sandwiches which were squashed, messy and sweaty when they were retrieved out of the Tupperware containers. But Niamh is thinking outside the box.

“I provide a Brunch Box for two to four people, a Family Box for two adults and two children, and a Lunch Box for two to four people.

“All options include savoury snacks, mains, sweet treats and homemade drinks.”

The picnic box is prettily packaged complete with coloured string and a handful of wild flowers from the Hegarty garden near Ballywilliam beach.

The moist chocolate and raspberry tart is to die for and the feisty berry kefir goes down well with the locally produced cheddar cheese and savoury crackers.

“I make the fermented kefir and I grow lots of my own vegetables in the garden,” says Niamh.

“I put my time to good use during the pandemic.”

Niamh spent a lot of time working and living abroad after college.

“I was travelling for two and half years and I worked and lived in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand,” says Niamh.

“I had a lot of positive experiences and a lot of fun!

“When I came home to Cork last summer I did the five-week summer cookery course in Ballymaloe Cookery School. At the time I had no new job so it seemed like a good opportunity to sign up for the course. I’ve always had an interest in food and the cookery course was a brilliant experience,” says Niamh.

“I got so much out of it. Doing the course was always a dream of mine but I never seemed to have the time or the money.”

The timing was right this time.

“After finishing the cookery course I stayed on in the cookery school and I ran a pop-up shop in the Grainstore and helped cater for the annual Halloween event, Boo! at Ballymaloe House. I’d never done anything like that before,” says Niamh.

“It was pretty full-on but most enjoyable. It was really busy and I really liked it.

“I was keen to pursue my interest in food and in food production.”

She wasn’t as keen on her new job in management consultancy in Dublin.

“The role wasn’t fulfilling me and I still had ideas about going into food production. It was my real passion.” Niamh has a passion for life.

“I did think of going down the cheffing route,” she says.

“But I know the hours in restaurant kitchens are long and unsociable and you wouldn’t have a life, the job is so full on. And chefs work really hard.”

When Niamh returned home from Dublin to the beautiful hamlet of Churchtown South sheltered in the shadow of Ballycotton Lighthouse, she noticed the large numbers of families on the beach.

She also noticed something else.

“Apart from fish and chips, there weren’t many other food options available,” says Niamh.

“There is so much fresh locally-grown food here in East Cork, I thought that was a bit of a shame.”

She thought about the benefits of the great outdoors.

“I thought about being outside in the fresh sea air that is so healthy,” says Niamh.

“And now a lot of yoga and pilates classes are taking place outdoors.”

She thought about providing healthy food to active people who enjoyed their leisure time.

“What about adding healthy, wholesome food into the mix?”

And she came up with a delicious mixed bag of ingredients and goods for her picnic boxes fresh from Niamh’s Larder.

“Cheese scones, Buddha bowls, Falafel, Hummus, Mediterranean Tart, all seem to be in great demand,” says Niamh.

“Pasta salad, fruit and lemon shortbread biscuits are on the menu too.”

Prepping and packaging takes up a lot of her time.

“As the orders are coming in, I get busy prepping and cooking,” says Niamh.

“The HSE inspector was down to my house and he was very happy with the safety and sanitary regulations in place.”

She’s loving her new occupation.

Summer time and the living is easy. What about the autumn and winter months for her business?

“I’m hoping to trade at Farmer’s Markets and deliver picnic boxes to offices when more people are back to work. They might not be have the time to go shopping!” says Niamh.

“You know you often hear about a lot about men taking risks. But you don’t hear much about women taking risks. I thought, why should I be afraid to take a risk? If it fails, it does. It’s not the end of the world. At least I went for it 100%.”

The organic local picnic boxes from Niamh’s Larder are 100% simply delicious.

For more information email niamhslarder@gmail.com or contact her through Instagram @niamhslarder. You can also call 083-3773574.

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