30 Years at Ballymaloe by Darina Allen

Bibliocook.com - Rory O'Connell & Darina Allen, Ballymaloe Cookery School 30th birthday celebrations

Ballymaloe Cookery School co-founders Rory & Darina at the recent 30th birthday celebrations

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.

Bibliocook.com - Simply Delicious with Darina Allen 1989

The first known sighting of crudités on an Irish cookery programme

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.

Bibliocook.com - Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread from 30 Years at Ballymaloe by Darina Allen

Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread – child’s play

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
sunflower oil
sesame seeds

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. 

More Ballymaloe:
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



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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31 Responses

  1. Peggy says:

    I have been dreaming of doing the 12 week course for a very long time. Ballymaloe seems like such a magical place! Hopefully I will manage one day to do it too

  2. Neva says:

    “butter was the devil’ -I was lucky to have a granny who believed in real butter and when i started college sent me off with a pound of kerrygold every week so i wouldn’t eat ‘ that stuff with the anti-freeze in it’.

    We owe a lot to the Allens, our mammies cooking and tattered copies of ‘Simply Delicious’.

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      It was always real butter in Richmond Hill! And we had plenty of tattered cookbooks lying around too. I think it was around then that I bought my copy of the grey bible – Darina’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course – used in conjunction with Nigel and Nigella.

  3. Pawel says:

    Me Please

  4. Christopher Brack says:


    its great to have someone on the international stage promote Irish food, makes you proud.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I would love to win Darina Allen’s “30 Years at Ballymaloe”

  6. Elizabeth MacDonnell says:

    I dream about doing the Ballymaloe cookery course…I also believe that sometimes dreams do come true, till then the book would be a great addition to my collection

  7. Elaine says:

    Looking forward to trying this out at the weekend, hopefully it’ll be like Granny’s been trying to make bread like hers for years.

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      It will never taste exactly like your Granny’s bread but it’s mighty fine eating. We also love it toasted – with lots of butter and raspberry jam, especially if we have a pot of The Green Apron’s Chocolate Raspberry Jam in the cottage.

  8. Olive says:

    What a wonderful article, wish I could visit Ballymaloe someday

  9. I just love Darina and her whole food ethos. I did a one day nose to tail course and it was fantastic. I’d love to go back and do the full three month course someday. Had a peek at this book the other day and it looks so beautiful and interesting – would love a copy!

  10. Julie says:

    Is it wrong of me to say that sometimes I wish Darina Allen was “my mammy”. Can you imagine coming home from school to be greeting by big doorsteps of buttery brown bread and homemade jam? What a panacea to a damp anorak, snotty nose, and bloody knees! What a respite before having to face into an hour or two of “Salut Francais” or “Seal ag Leamh 5”!

    I should add that I love my own mammy (despite her Brennan’s white sliced pan and Yellow Pack jam.) I love you mom!

  11. Robert Daly says:

    I’ve been making this and their Granary bread for the last few years and my kids live on it. Easy to follow and a joy to produce and eat. Yum ! Yum ! Great with eggs, cheese or Jam.

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      Hi Robert
      Congratulations! You’ve been chosen – via Random.org – as the winner of 30 Years at Ballymaloe. I’ve just sent you an email about it. .Hope you enjoy cooking from the book.

      • Robert Daly says:


        Delighted and surprised to win !!!! Really looking forward to receiving such a fabulous prize. Family already demanding loads more delicious new dishes !!! Many Thanks, Robert

  12. Aoife says:

    Darina was the go to woman in my house growing up. I will forever remember sitting with my mother watching her programme on RTE!! I would love to win a copy of this book!! Love your blog!!

  13. kat says:

    Would love to add this book to my collection.

  14. Tríona says:

    The Ballymaloe cookery course is my go to book for giving to people at christmas, good basics and a lot of background. Stops the brother ringing me for advice every week…

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      It’s normally the wedding present that I give to friends. Makes a great gift. And you’re right, it does cut down on emergency phone calls!

  15. Ajda says:

    My cookbook collection is coming along nicely due to the shoots I have been a part of this year. This one would be lovely to add to the collection 😉

  16. Kim says:

    Darina and Myrtle Allen are Irish food icons! I am a trainee chef in a fine dining kitchen and Ballymaloe Cookery Course is like a bible to me. As a student winning this book would mean the world to me 🙂 Love your blog, keep up the good work Caroline!

  17. Tricia says:

    30 years of Ballymaloe,
    the thought makes my heart glow.
    And if I win? How yummy!
    That glow will go straight to my tummy!

  18. orl says:

    Stayed overnight in Ballymaloe last year. Food was fantastic. what a feast

  19. Marie says:

    Would looove 🙂

  20. Áine says:

    Interesting article I will try the bread. I would love to do the course too!

  21. Katy Milligan says:

    Would love to win a copy of the book – my student finances would never stretch to a course at the school!

  22. Kate O Sullivan says:

    6, 4, 2…. The way Darina told us how to ratio the ingredients for shortbread biscuits on her tv show. It was also the first time I baked all by myself without supervision and to much applause! We had all her cooking books when I was a kid, I knew where to find my favourite recipes according to which colour the book was. I’d give anything to do the cookery course, so jealous of you! Her cooking, her recipes , her approach to food, I always feel comforted by it and try to follow as much as posdible! And all those who’ve carried on the traditions are doing a wonderful job 🙂 I’d love the book but whoever gets it, I bet it’ll be we’ll thumbed. Here’s hoping next year I’ll be blogging myself about the course 🙂

  23. olive hallahan says:

    We call these 3 great ladies the Blessed Trinity. Myrtle, Darina and Rachel.

  24. Pamela peters says:

    growing up with my granny making bread every morning, she was a true inspiration the trouble was she did a lot of it by eye and if you pushed her to weigh it she said it never worked so some of her versions of recipes dissappeared.
    Was thinking i’ll have a go at treacle bread one of these days and see if i could get it anything like grannies, i have loved cooking ever since the first waft of her baking!

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