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“My kitchen may not be the tidiest or the fanciest,” Tracey says of her home on the shores of Strangford Lough in County Down. “But it is certainly lived in and loved.” Everything here in Tracey’s farmhouse, from the homemade buttermilk soda bannock (bread) to hearty wheaten bread, is made with love.
When you arrive at the traditional thatched cottage, the first thing that greets you – even before you spot Tracey at the front door in her flour-covered apron – is the smell of fresh baking. The delicious aroma fills the air and leads you inside to a homely farmhouse kitchen table laden with traditional breads, sweet treats and tray bakes (another Northern Irish delicacy) made earlier that morning, accompanied with local butters and jams. “Make yourselves at home and tuck into everything on the table,” says your warm-hearted host, brewing up fresh pots of tea and coffee. “And anything you don’t eat, you can bring home with you.”
Soon, you are getting stuck in: donning an apron, rolling up your sleeves, and mixing and kneading dough for soda and wheaten breads using local flour and buttermilk before placing them on a griddle. “We don’t measure or weigh anything here,” Tracey explains. “It’s a handful of this and a handful of that in the traditional way.” The time flies by full of chat, laughter and local stories, mostly about the farming community of this beautiful landscape just half an hour from Belfast. In Tracey’s Kitchen, you're guaranteed to make friends as well as bread.
The breads you create with your own hands might not be perfect in shape or size, but this isn’t a beauty contest. What matters is how good they taste, still warm from the griddle and served dripping in award-winning local butter, all washed down with endless cups of tea or coffee. And no one leaves empty-handed. As well as the memories you bring away with you – not to mention your new-found skills as a traditional baker – guests take away their own homemade soda, wheaten and potato breads, as well as the recipes and any cakes and scones… if there are any left, that is.
This is true Northern Irish hospitality. “I want my guests to be able to relax in my home and kick back here, they leave with a warm feeling of having been welcomed and made to feel part of the family,” says Tracey. “They come in as visitors and leave as friends.”