I am fortunate enough to still have a Granny and, until I was 12, I also had a Nana. Nana, my mother’s mother, was sick throughout my childhood so we spent a lot of time at her home in Oldcastletown. Some of my early memories revolve around her Aga-warmed kitchen – the centre of the house – where there were always a selection of queencakes in a tin or fruitcake slices to be buttered for afternoon tea. Saturday was the baking day in that house. I remember being wrapped up in an apron before being shown how to fold in flour to a sponge cake or slicing apples to fill an enormous roasting tin-sized apple tart. That was the house of mushroom gluts and energetic jam making as us grandchildren were sent down the fields to pick mushrooms or into the orchard to gather windfalls and blackcurrants. Even when Nana wasn’t able to do the work herself, she kept an eagle eye over my mother and aunts as they completed the work to her satisfaction. I pored over her old cookbooks – subsequently having to buy Maura Laverty‘s Full and Plenty in homage – learned baking skills at her kitchen table, inherited her interest in hens and now live in a cottage just the other side of the hill from Oldcastletown.
I love experimenting with and learning different cooking techniques, especially if they involve playing with yeast. No Knead Bread? Yes please! Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Made that. Sourdough from my own starter? Still bubbling quietly away in the fridge. But grilled or barbequed pizza? Not yet – that was until I got my hands on a copy of Craig Priebe’s Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas. Craig developed his grilling technique, using a barbeque, when he ran his own pizza restaurant in Atlanta and this book explains it in detail. When we did the pizza day in Ballymaloe, Darina cooked one of her creations on the barbeque outside the demo theatre door but, more fascinated by the wood-fired oven, I didn’t hang around in the rain, instead directing my attentions indoors so I never got to investigate the barbequed pizza properly.
Christmas is coming/The goose is getting fat… and it’s more than time to have your Christmas lists made and almost completed. This year, between living out of the city and being completely immersed in the Ballymaloe Cookery Course, it’s almost crept up on me – and I know that I’m not the only one! Here are a few present ideas for your similarly-food orientated friends.
Practical exam over since Wednesday – not very happy with it but delighted that it is over – and two of our three final papers also done. It’s the final countdown to 3.30pm, the end of exams and the end of cooking school. Tonight there’s a class dinner at Ballymaloe House then it’s back to Ballycotton’s Blackbird for the rest of the evening. Just that final exam to get through first…
Yesterday we had our last day of cooking in Kitchen Three. It’s hard to believe that we’re into the final few days of the course already. At least I got to murder my first lobster before we finished up, for yesterday’s Lobster with Cream and Fresh Herb lunch. The other dish I made was a Walnut and Armagnac tart with a really short, biscuity pastry and – of course – another pair of sourdough loaves. Had a bit of a disaster with the bread on Friday, however, as I forgot to put in the salt so it misbehaved and didn’t turn out very well. At least the loaves yesterday were much better, which is a relief as I’m hoping to use the bread toasted under the cheese in my exam starter – A Warm Salad of Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese with Walnut Oil Dressing. After morning demo today, many of us have Cook Ahead time – my Yoghurt and Cardamom Cream needs to set overnight and at least that will be one less thing to worry about tomorrow although the time will be taken off. It’s nice to think that I might get the whole dinner and bread cooked in three hours but, at this stage, I’m not so pushed about that. I just want to get finished!
Today everything clicked into place, despite last night being a late one with the Sister at a musical evening in Ballymaloe House and lots of red wine! I was in at 8am on gardening duty with the ever-perky red-socked gardener. The two of us whizzed around the greenhouse or, rather, she whizzed – I plodded along behind at half speed – gathering quantities of parsley, chervil, coriander, kale and Swiss chard, which we then sorted, washed and labelled back at school.