I N T E R V I E W
The Ballymaloe House in Ireland is one of my favorite places
in the world to visit. Not only because of the fresh air
but for the fresh approach that the Allens take at their wonderful
14th century country house in East Cork Ireland. Situated in the middle
of a 400 acre farm, it is the centre of a group of family enterprises
that includes the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
The school is run by their daughter in law, Darina Allen.
It offers courses for those who wish to pursue a culinary career
or want to discover the secret of cooking with confidence
in their own home. Darina has written quite a few cookbooks.
Her newest creation is a delightful one called The Complete Book
of Irish Cooking. Here are some things cookmaster Allen had to say
about the book and Irish cooking in general.
All the luck to you!
Interview by Patricia Greaney
How did the cooking school start?
Darina: It was a logical offshoot of Ballymaloe.
I started about 13 years ago. I was lucky to use the name Ballymaloe
but it was a heavy responsibility to live up to the name.
It's situated on a 100 acre farm, we grow all our own vegetables,
we have 150 free range hens for eggs, a herd of Kerry cows.
Kerry cows are an endangered species so that's why I'm building
a herd of them, they are Irish cows with black horns. We also have pigs
that are a rare breed that are reared for flavor. We have some ducks,
geese and sheep. It's quite a menagerie.
And the classes?
Darina: We converted some of the barns into accommodations
and the other farm buildings into the cookery school. We now operate
the whole year round with two, twelve week professional courses
and some other short courses which are anything from a day to a weekend
on all sorts of subjects. They range from
to 'New Trends in Cooking'.
What do you feel is the most important lesson
you teach your students?
DA: I like teaching complete beginners.
My whole mission is to help people feel that cooking
is not a mystery and to give them confidence.
There were so many dishes and ingredients
that seemed so foreign to me even though my heritage is Irish.
For instance the dish, Champ. Can you explain what it is?
Darina: You can make champ really easily.
If you use Yukon Gold potatoes, boil them in their jackets.
Use what we call "old" potatoes, not in the sense that they
are "old" but they are the winter crop. When they are cooked,
peel and mash them While you are mashing them you are heating
some cold milk, full cream milk that is, with chopped up scallions
in it. Add salt, pepper and butter. Beat that into
the mashed up potato.And it gets all lovely fluffy and delicious
and it's flecked with scallions.
Traditionally people ate champs on Fridays because there
was a fast on Fridays, you couldn't eat meat and for those that
lived away from the coast, fish was out of the question.
They would make big plates of this with a knob of butter melting
in the center and you would take each forkful of potato
and dip it into the melting butter.
Darina: It's a mashed potato dish but this time you cook
cabbage separately and mix the cooked cabbage
through the fluffy mashed potato. Again put the melted butter
in the center. There have been songs sung about the dish.
Then there is Boxty.
Darina: Boxty is yet another potato dish (giggle).
Yes, potatoes were so important that the monarch of the house
was doing her best to try to make it taste a little different.
It was actually considered to be a bit of a luxury because they
the raw potatoes and mixed it with the cooked potatoes
and some white flour. Now, white flour was a luxury because
it was wheat flour as opposed to barley or rye flour which were
more widely available. It was quite treat. So, they mixed the grated
raw potatoes which they strained and the liquid that came out
had lots of starch in it. They actually kept the starch for
starching the collars of men's shirts. Sometimes they make Boxty
in big pans or even poached it in boiling salted water and when
they take it out they'd let it get cold and they sliced and cooked
it in butter the next day. It's the sort of thing that if you're reared
on it you still really love it. Then there is a third type of Boxty
that was a pancake which they added more buttermilk and make a kind
of batter and cook it off on a griddle. They'd eat it with honey
or with rashes for breakfast.
I'm intrigued by buttered eggs?
Darina: Ah yes, buttered eggs were a way to preserve eggs
in the short term. They would be taken warm from the roost
and slathered with butter which seals the shell. It gives the egg
a really wonderful texture and are wonderful poached. Eggs were actually
kept by the farmers wife and were hers to sell as "hat pin money"
or in other words for little luxuries.
Well, Darina Allen does have the luck of he Irish.
Let's hope it rubs off on us while
we prepare some her wonderful dishes.