THE country might have come to a virtual standstill while the coronavirus lockdown is being observed — but for Macroom man Donal Creedon, life hasn’t stood still at all!
He took over the Macroom flour mill from his father, John, in the 1980s, and demand for his product has gone through the roof of late.
The Mill, standing tall and proud on the banks of the Sullane, is now known as Macroom Oatmeal Mill.
“Macroom stoneground wholemeal flour and Macroom oatmeal is in even bigger demand these days,” says Donal, who is earning his crust supplying the ingredients for our daily bread to bakers, food manufacturers and supermarkets.
“People who never baked before are making their own bread during the lockdown. If they are cocooning or in isolation, baking bread is a bit of a hobby for them.”
And bread-making, kneading, stirring, baking, smelling, savouring the fresh dough, has become part of our daily ritual.
Donal, well used to the milling ritual, knows bread has been the staple of the Irish diet for centuries.
“Myself and the packers are working six days a week to make sure the flour and the oatmeal is distributed to our regular suppliers.”
The popular Macroom stoneground wholemeal flour and Macroom oatmeal are selling like hot-cakes.
“Everyone is looking for stoneground wholemeal flour to bake their brown bread,” says Donal. “The people of Cork seem to favour Macroom flour for baking. It’s always been the case as for long as I can remember.”
He believes in customer satisfaction.
“We have to stay at it. Our three distributors are on the road day and night throughout county Cork,” says Donal.
“We supply Supervalu, Dunnes, and a number of health shops. Individual shops like the Ballymaloe Cookery School shop are regular customers too.”
All the floury hands at the mill are on deck to supply the product.
“The whole country is baking!” says Donal.
His products are additive- and preservative-free, and still milled in the traditional manner.
“The pin is to our collar. We are flat out working day and night,” says Donal, whose mother’s people, the Waltons, opened the mill in 1832.
He continues to run the business in the old traditional way, grinding the flour between two mill stones, an ancient process that has not changed over the centuries.
“The mill was burned down by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence,” says Donal. “My father and my uncle rebuilt it in 1923 when the milling business was in decline, they resumed it again.”
Who were the Creedon’s customers back then?
“The main customers were merchants from Macroom,” says Donal’s mother, Teresa, 87. “At one time nine people were employed here in the mill. It was a busy spot.”
Mother and son are one of the few third generation Irish companies still trading. “There are very few mills left in Ireland now, apart from Odlum’s and Howards,” says Donal. “We are small fry in comparison to them. And there are very few traditional family businesses left in rural Ireland. We are the old-timers!
“The old ways are best,” adds Donal, who is a one-man operation.
“The Irish- grown wheat and grain we use for the flour and the oatmeal comes from up the country, Kildare and Wicklow,” he adds.
Does the wheat and grain, grown in the garden of Ireland and the lily-white lush fields of Kildare, give the Macroom flour and oatmeal it’s nutty, crunchy texture?
“Yes, it does. The excellent quality of the grain and wheat is very important for milling our flour and oatmeal,” says Donal.
“Macroom flour has a unique texture that gives the brown bread its own particular flavour.
“The oatmeal has a nutty substance to it that gives it that extra bite.”
Like a good craft beer?
“Yes, like a full-bodied craft beer!”
Bread making is our port in the Covid-19 storm. While the world is turbulent, baking loaves has become not only an act of self-sufficiency but also one of agency. You are in control of a world where the old rules still work.
Teresa Creedon makes a batch of loaves every day from the flour ground on her doorstep. The Creedons live in the original family home built in 1770.
“We eat a lot of it,” she says. “Home-made brown bread is very nutritious, full of fibre with lots of protein. We grew up on it.”
The best thing since sliced bread is not sliced bread these days, it seems. The brown loaf has become the great leveller in our society. Bread making is no longer a folk memory; it has become part of our daily grind as we swap notes between households on recipes and tips for the perfect loaf.
I tell Donal and Teresa that I left a brown loaf at my elderly neighbours’ door the other day. She phoned me. “Did you use Macroom flour?” she enquired.
The Creedons are amused.
“Folks, especially the older folks, know exactly what goes into a good brown loaf,” says Teresa. “Macroom stoneground wholemeal flour is a particular favourite for traditional cooks.”
Has she any tips she can pass on for bakers like me who are new to the game?
“Every loaf is different,” says Teresa. “But a light hand helps the bread not turn out too heavy or too doughy. You want a spring on the crust.
“People get to know what works to add to the mixture. Some bakers add seeds, nuts, oats, honey, for instance. The basic Macroom brown bread recipe is printed on the bag of the Macroom flour.”
So all we have to do is do what it says on the ‘tin’?
“That’s right,” says Teresa, who is cocooning but walking around her garden near the river in the sunshine, talking to me on the phone.
“Follow the recipe, get familiar with it and then add in a few extras for variety. Sprinkling some sunflower seeds when the bread is baked adds a nice crunch to the bread.”
It’s crunch time for Donal and his crew at the Macroom Oatmeal Mill.
“We are at full capacity,” he says. “Early mornings and late nights are par for the course.”
You can’t hurry a labour of love.
“The flour becomes gravelly if you hurry the process up,” adds Donal.
His ancestors would turn in their graves if that happened, considering the successful milling tradition?
“There is no chance of that! We bide our time and then everything works like clockwork.”
He has the secret ingredient.
“Patience is the best policy.”
Donal is right. The old ways work best.
RECIPE: Macroom Brown Soda Bread
Ingredients (makes 8-10 slices)
Butter, for greasing
180g cream flour
340g Macroom Stoneground Wholewheat Flour (extra coarse)
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
70g Macroom Oatmeal
1 medium organic egg
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas 6. Butter a 450g loaf tin.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the flours, bicarbonate soda, salt and oatmeal to combine, then make a well in the centre.
- Whisk together the egg and buttermilk in a hug, and pour into a dry mix. Using your hand as a claw, mix the ingredients together in a circular motion until well combined.
- Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. When you remove the loaf from the tin, make sure to tap the bottom too, listening for that hollow sounds, just to be sure. Sprinkle sesame or sunflower seeds on crust. Cool on a wire rack.
- Serve with creamy butter, jam or honey. Enjoy!
The lockdown has turned many of us into baking aficionados and Macroom flour mill boss Donal Creedon is among those helping meet demand. He tells CHRIS DUNNE about his job, and we also have a recipe for delicious Macroom Brown Soda Bread