Situated in the middle of a 400-acre farm in East Cork, Ireland, Ballyamaloe
is the centre of a group of enterprises owned and operated by the Allen
family. The collection of family businesses includes the Ballymaloe Inn
and the Ballymaloe Cooking School. Darina Allen, daughter-in-law to the
Allen’s, owns and operates the school. It offers courses for those
who wish to pursue a culinary career or for anyone who wants to discover
the secret of cooking with confidence in their own home.
A well-known chef, Darina is a prolific cookbook author, having penned
at least 11 books on numerous topics, mostly focusing on Irish food. We
asked Darina to tell us a bit about the school, and we asked her to explain
some of Ireland’s traditional dishes.
Patricia Greaney: How did the Ballymaloe
Cooking School start?
Darina Allen: It was a logical offshoot
of Ballymaloe. I started about 20 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.
PG: And the classes?
DA: 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 'Irresistible Breakfast' to
'New Trends in Cooking'.
PG: 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.
PG: There are so many dishes and ingredients
at Ballymaloe that seem foreign to me even though my heritage is Irish.
For instance the dish, Champ. Can you explain what it is?
DA: 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. 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.
PG: What is Colcannon?
DA: 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. They're wonderful.
PG: Then there is something called “boxty”.
DA: Boxty is yet another potato dish (Darina
giggles). 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 grated 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 that 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.
PG: Buttered eggs intrigue me. Can you explain what they are?
DA: 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.