Phew! The first week of the twelve-week course – and, according to everyone who works at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, the longest one – is over. It’s been five days of early mornings and late evenings, our heads a-swim with new techniques, terms and ideas as we try to concentrate on Darina’s afternoon demos, knowing that we will have to cook the dishes ourselves the following morning. After the initial few full-on days, it’s easier to see the course structure: we cook four mornings a week from 8.45/9am to 12pm, lunch on the food that we’ve prepared – normally a three-course meal – start afternoon demonstration at 1.45pm and go straight through until around 5pm-ish. Wednesdays are theory days. For cooking, we are divided into pairs, a teacher to every six students, working in four different kitchens. We cook at least two dishes each and then, at the end of the class, present a taster plate to our teacher for critical assessment.
Cooking under these circumstances – eleven other people trying to find and weigh ingredients, space in the fridge, a spare oven shelf, the equipment that belongs to their station – is much more difficult than you might suspect. On Tuesday we gingerly started practicing with our new super-sharp, monogrammed knife sets. Although I am normally comfortable at using sharp knives, we had been so direly warned that every careful stroke seemed to be about to herald the end of me possessing ten fingers. Fortunately, they survived not only that day but the rest of the week. I’m sure I’ll be chopping away like a pro in a few months’ time! The second day of cooking was scarcely less auspicious. I was making a French Onion Tart and, again being nervous, managed to put too much liquid in my pastry. Because it was too moist, it refused to co-operate at the rolling out stage and the pastry case was too thick, didn’t cook in the appropriate time, refused to take all the filling and was, generally, what we may call a flop. And that was even before I managed to over-caramelise (read burn) my caramelised onions, and had to start them from scratch. These are all things – pastry, tarts, caramelised onions – that I’ve done at home many times without even thinking. In this environment I’m thinking too much! Fortunately today’s recipes (Penne with Spicy Sausage, Tomato and Cream, Mummy’s Sweet White Scones and Raspberry Jam) all turned out well and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my take-home pot of Raspberry Jam with tomorrow morning’s toast.
One week of driving has been enough, though. Next week the Husband and I move down to Ballycotton, just around the corner from Ballymaloe, for the duration of the course. The days are still bright but that’s not going to last for much longer and an hour+ car trip every morning and evening doesn’t give much time for study or relaxation. I may not be online so often but I’ll hope to still keep you updated. For now, here comes the weekend!