Locally-grown soup celery gives NI soups the edge

NI Food Love Stories has been talking to third generation growers; James & Biffy Dunlop at Windwhistle Farm to find out what exactly is in our soup veg mix that gives Northern Irish soup its edge.

The Dunlop family has been growing veg since the turn of the century on the shores of Strangford Lough, where the family now grows, prepares and packs soup vegetables. David Dunlop was an innovator in the world of vegetables; he started packaging ready-made soup veg packs in 1979 while competitors still wrapped vegetables in newspapers. David continued to innovate by creating his own motorised vegetable cutting machine which enabled the Dunlops to produce greater volumes and grow their business, growing, chopping and packing everything on their farm.

Soup veg mix has been a regular in most families’ shopping trollies since the 70s, with it forming the base of local favourite – vegetable broth.

Whether you make it with a cut of silverside beef, chicken or ham, every family in Northern Ireland will boast that their granny’s homemade soup is the best.

What people might not know however, is that this well-recognised soup veg mix is actually unique to Northern Ireland; and it’s all because of one particular vegetable- ‘soup celery’.

The location of Windwhistle’s farm in Comber is perfectly situated for growing the unique celery; the Northern Irish weather plus rich fertile Comber soil is idyllic for soup celery crop. It can be very temperamental where it will grow and strangely enough doesn’t grow well in the UK Mainland. The crop doesn’t do well with frost but the lough air keeps the frost at bay in the colder months.

‘soup celery’ (or herb celery) adds the ‘peppery’ aroma to the soup mix consisting of leeks, parsley, carrots & celery.

And…if you were wondering what happened to David’s Dunlop’s original vegetable chopping machine then you’ll be happy to hear it was given to Belfast Zoo to feed a toothless elephant!