Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ballymaloe Cookery School ~ Darina Allen

Yesterday I mentioned Darina Allen's cookbook Irish Traditional Cooking and gave a recipe from KAF and Cabot Cheese for Irish soda bread, which I've been enjoying. It's wonderful toasted! Then another of those moments happened that I absolutely love to experience. After writing that blog, I sat down on the sofa and picked up my brand new March/April issue of Victoria magazine. Looking through it, I came across an article with the title "Making Every Meal A Celebration." It's an article about Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland. I don't know exactly how things like that happen, but I like the fact they do.

So this morning, I want to give you a small taste of the article. In it, I found a down-to-earth approach to both food and meals, which our country would do well to adopt. First listen to the article's introduction: "Travel down a twisting, narrow country road on the southern coast of ireland, past verdant pastures where cows and sheep graze lazily and fields are bursting with nature's bounty, to Ballymaloe--a magical place where the time-honored ways of cooking are still treasured, and people are passionate about food." I encourage you to get the magazine or google the topic for your own pleasure. I'm pretty sure that this cooking school is the only one in the world that has all the resources of Ballymaloe, as it is located in the middle of a 100-acre organic farm, where not only fresh vegetables and fruits abound, but butter and cream from the animals. Darina says, "We feel much blessed." And as I contemplate our country's dwindling farms, I agree with her.

And her philosophy? The Ballymaloe School of Cookery teaches "that the finest food comes from the finest ingredients, harvested (or foraged) locally and grown organically. It asserts that resources should be used sustainably and food should not be wasted. It promotes local and seasonal eating and discourages transporting foodstuffs over great distances. And above all, it espouses that cooking and eating should be fun."

Darina, who is the best-known chef in Ireland, says: "Happy memories are made at the table." She recalls her family with nine children: "There was always cooking going on in our house. The table was nicely set for every meal. It was never a question of grab, gobble, and go--we all sat down and ate together around the kitchen table." Darina's first visit to Ballymaloe was in the 1960s as a young cook, where she met Myrtle Allen, who became her mother-in-law and mentor. Darina was inspired by Myrtle's philosophy and soaked in her attitude toward life and cooking.  Myrtle's philosophy of cooking is the standard at the cookery school, which Darina opened in 1983.

 What has Darina noticed during the last 25 years of operating the school--not only preparing young cooks to be professional chefs, but taking many students through classes who just want to be better cooks? She has noticed "an alarming loss of skills among her students." She says that "The art of thrifty housekeeping has gradually petered out and become strangely unfashionable." And she has written a book to fill in the gaps of that lack of knowledge. It's title says it all Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways Are the Best (Kyle Books, 2009). It's still a cookbook with over 600 recipes, but it's also a how-to manual and memoir of her life at Ballymaloe. In her book, Darina explains the skills every homemaker used to know--making jam, butter, and cheese, as well as keeping chickens in the garden. Her recipes run the gamut from simple Irish soda bread to coq au vin. Just reading about it makes me nostalgic for a life not lived. At least I remember my mother and grandmother having a garden, tending chickens and cows, and making butter and jam.

Darina says, "There's no reason why every meal shouldn't be a celebration....When my mother died, a neighbor came up to me with one of her fond memories. 'Your mother could never understand people who could sit down at the table with the milk bottle and a pound of butter, still in its wrapper. She always laid the table properly, with a little vase of flowers, as if the Queen of England were coming to dine!' " Hmmm...does that sound like any household you've experienced lately? Do we even know what has happened in this country? Romantic fantasy? Perhaps, but we all have to eat!

There are recipes in the magazine excerpted from Darina's new cookbook, but I'll forgo them today. My goal is always to make us think about our lives--how and why we live as we do. If this article gives you any hint in that direction, I'll be pleased. Of course, I've also learned that all our understanding makes no difference if we don't do anything about it, which is sometimes impossible. But I believe you and I are doing the best we can to make things as good as we can with God's help.




  1. I enjoyed reading about this food establishment in Ireland. I'm sure she is doing what she loves doing. This compares to A. Stoddard - making the everyday special in little ways.
    Since our understanding of things leads to wisdom I think it does make a difference, if not now,

    then later on perhaps, that we think through events in life & their meaning for us. We can do the best we can whether or not anybody sees, cares or it seems to matter. God sees our life and since He is the one who really cares and the one we must answer to, we should never fear to do our best to make the right decisions. Doing something that moves us forward in a situation or difficulty in this life may often take longer than we wish though!

  2. Morning, Paula! Thanks for your comment. I have been thinking of all the things I haven't done--didn't even come close to doing--ever since I wrote the blog. Sometimes understanding and change only come when many people accept the truth and move in a different direction. It's people like Alexandra who help us see the light. And I believe that doing even little things to begin a new way of looking at life is a very important step. Sometimes it's all that's necessary to begin an avalance! Hope you have a good day!

  3. Paula...Did you see the pic of my Irish soda bread at the end of yesterday's blog? You might stir that up if you have an easy. I'm still eating on it and it's really good toasted.

  4. Hello from that area of the south coast of Ireland. I have lived in this area all of my life and I am so grateful for that. It is beautiful and Darina Allens Cookery School is an amazing spot that has been years in the making and is a truly wonderful place. I would tell anyone who has as we Irish would say 'notions of coming to visit' to do so and book a three month course or just a week or day course. They are all wonderful and I guarantee you will all go home happy you came and longing to come back soon. The ingredients in the school are real and fresh from the soil, the food produced has to be tasted to be believed. This area of County Cork is stunning. I live in a gorgeous fishing village called Ballycotton which is perched on the top of a cliff ..... has to be seen to be believed. Google 'images' and you will see what I mean. The people here are very friendly and welcoming. Many people have arrived, fallen in love with the place and have never left. It grabs your soul and heart. You should book a flight and you may never want to go home. You may become an honorary Irish person.