In 2007 I did the 12-week cookery course at Ballymaloe. I only had to come down the road for it; many of my classmates had traveled much further, coming from England, Spain, Sweden, Australia and America to study in this internationally known Irish cookery school. It was an intense, hard-working, food-filled transition time for me, a hiatus between full-time work in Dublin and freelancing from a country cottage.
It was also pure luxury, three months spent immersed in a kitchen. We cooked all morning, ate the results for lunch, watched demos in the afternoons and – hungry again – queued eagerly to devour what had been produced. Just as well there was some time spent hoovering the demo room, carrying buckets of scraps to the hens (two of the students’ chores) and walking to the pub (not such a chore!) to balance it all out.
Darina Allen’s latest book, 30 Years at Ballymaloe, is a celebration of the place, the people and the ethos that underpins the whole enterprise. It’s also a reminder of just how she and Ballymaloe transformed food in Ireland.
I grew up on a scanty diet of Delia Smith cookery shows, with the odd Keith Floyd series thrown in – not so much food on screen in those days – and Darina’s Simply Delicious was a refreshing blast of Irish air. (You can watch that first programme online here) She used good Irish butter and cream with wild abandon, seasoned liberally and displayed the results in Stephen Pearce pottery.
That was back in 1989. Times were tough, butter was the devil’s food and the hotel restaurants that I occasionally visited served neon-pink prawn cocktail, chicken-and-chips and Black Forest Gateau. Unsophisticated heaven to this child of the eighties – but there was little Irish on those unchanging menus. Through Darina’s Simply Delicious books I read in awe of the Ballymaloe House food that Myrtle Allen had pioneered, of mushroom a la crème and Jane’s Biscuits, homemade ice bowls and pickled cucumber. There was an emphasis on, and a pride in, local and seasonal that may have seemed a little out of place at a time when we were just discovering Italian and Chinese food.
Now it seems as if the whole country has caught up with Ballymaloe. Suppliers are namechecked on menus, producers celebrated, chefs have their own gardens and using foraged ingredients is de rigeur. Thirty years-worth of students have played their part, setting up restaurants and their own cookery schools, writing cookbooks and, as consumers, demanding high standards.
So there’s a lot of the past in 30 Years of Ballymaloe – but it also looks to the future. Darina touches on butchery, sustainable fishing, Nordic cuisine and this year’s Ballymaloe LitFest. Old stalwart recipes like Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread and Mummy’s Sweet Scones make an appearance alongside Arun Kapil’s Garam Masala Cookies, Camilla Plum’s Strawberry and Rose Petal Jam and Rory’s Moroccan Harira Soup (not so photogenic when I made it but nourishing and warming in cold autumnal weather). It’s a scattering of recipes around the world, with contributions from chefs and food writers who have done demonstrations at the school over the years, including Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey and the late Marcella Hazan, who writes of a bedraggled trip to Heir Island Cottage.
Once upon a time, Ballymaloe was just a place name. Now it’s a cookery school, a country house hotel, an organic farm, a literary festival. It’s a way of thinking and cooking – and very good eating.
Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread
I loved this bread while I was in Ballymaloe and, before I got a bread machine, regularly made it at the cottage. It’s so easy that kids can do it themselves or, at least, not mess it up while insisting on helping! I’ve adapted the recipe for the dried yeast that I use at home.
400g strong brown flour
50g rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried yeast
450mls warm water, at blood heat
1 teaspoon molasses
Use the sunflower oil to grease a 13 x 20cm (2lb) bread tin.
Mix the flours, salt and dried yeast together in a large bowl. Whisk the molasses with the water, tip it into the bowl and mix well. I often do this with my right hand, forming what Darina calls a “claw” to stir it around in a circle. The mixture will be pleasingly wet and sloppy.
Pour into the tin, sprinkle with sesame seeds, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm spot. You want to give it enough time to rise to just under the top of the tin, which can take from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on your house.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230°C (fanbake 210°C). When risen, bake for 20 minutes, then turn down to 200°C (fanbake 180°C) and bake for 40-50 minutes until it sounds hollow when turned out of the tin and tapped. I often cook it for the last 10 minutes without the tin.
Cool on a wire rack, if you can wait. It’s gorgeous eaten – although hard to cut – while still warm with lots of butter and raspberry jam.
Like this recipe? There are plenty more to play with in the copy of 30 Years at Ballymaloe that I have to give away, thanks to publisher Kyle Books. To enter – Ireland and UK only – just leave a comment below.
If you don’t win, the book is available from the Ballymaloe Cookery School website – while there, don’t miss entering their competition to win a 2½ day course by matching Darina’s specs with the correct year.
Thanks to Kyle Books for the review copy.
2007 My weekly account of the 12-week Ballymaloe Cookery School Certificate Course
2013 Ballymaloe LitFest: Lyric fm’s Culturefile: Fermentation guru Sandor Katz
2013 Lyric fm: Claudia Roden – and Ballymaloe Litfest