Every day I spent at Ballymaloe Cookery School was different – challenging, interesting, intriguing. I did things I never thought I would do (milk a cow!), I sat for exams (my first in 20 years) and I changed – subtly, indelibly, and for good.
I wish I could explain what was so empowering and positive about the experience, but things happened, and changed, in incremental ways. The satisfaction of cooking something, presenting it, tasting it with your teacher and knowing … that was damn good! The joy of watching the earth unfold its bounty – picking fresh peas off the pod, planting corn and watching it grow, picking herbs and salads in the gardens, making friends with and knowing the animals on the farm.
And being around a glowing, enthusiastic (for the most part!), intelligent, dynamic group of people – teachers, students, support staff – who all were immersed in the culture of Ballymaloe, and who all appreciated good food, from the source – that was just so inspirational. I learned something from everyone I met, and was so humbled to be a part of such a rich tradition.
These images were probably not all taken on the same day (may be a day or two apart, because they are in order in my camera)… but they represent for me, in my memory, what a day at Ballymaloe was like – full of colour, flavour, joy, achievement, quiet amazement, and pure, pure happiness.
Waking up in the gorgeous early morning (again, not something I did regularly in my old life) was always a revelation to me. Granted, I didnt do it every day … but when I did… walking through the gardens before class, saying hi to Trevor and his sister as they waited for their mothers to be milked … all these things sang to me of real abiding joy.
I fell in love with Trevor at first sight. Just to be able to interact with the animals on the farm was such an eye opening experience. And one day, I walked into the school, and was motioned into the front office by Tim. There, to my amazement, was a small incubator with eggs that were literally hatching before my eyes. Tiny baby chicks. And we got to hold them in our hands as they were born! For a city-bred woman like me, this was truly beautiful (and also raised some interesting questions as to how baby chicks are made… but thats another story!)
And then … the morning spent cooking. In uniforms that in the first few days felt stiff and slightly strange. It made me self conscious to wear a chef’s jacket … but after a while, it got to feel like a second skin. At our house, Mrs Walsh’s Cottage, we were constantly doing laundry to make sure we had our whites and our aprons! Prepping for a days cooking is no easy feat. But when you cook with presence and in the company of people who are in the same rhythm… well, magic happens. Our teachers were so knowledgeable – and shared their depth of cooking expertise freely and with grace. And they were so incredibly accommodating to me as a vegetarian cook. I was allowed to adapt recipes, and challenge myself to cook vegetarian, the Ballymaloe way. And honestly .. the bounty of the gardens, the farm, the kitchen. It would be difficult to mess up such fresh, extraordinary produce.
And sometimes… I looked at what I had made, and I was proud.
A Caesar’s Salad to start.
A vegetarian Shepherd’s pie for main course.
And a simple dessert – Victorian sponge cake, layered with whipped cream and home made raspberry jam.
Of course, sometimes, some of my classmates, decided to show off with a flurry of cakes that were beyond gorgeous!
And then… we would sit down as a group and eat together. Starters of all sorts, main courses, vegetable side dishes, a cheese tray, green salad (always green salad), and desserts of every possible description. And we ate… and ate … and ate…
Sometimes we would have a few minutes before our afternoon demonstration, or else we might have chores to do. But whatever the case, at around 2pm, we would be in the demo room to watch Darina Allen, Rachel Allen or Rory O’Connell demonstrate the dishes we would cook the next day. All three lecturers had their different styles, but they were all vibrant, interesting, and so knowledgeable about food. It was a master class each and every day.
And yes, in case youre wondering… we got to taste everything they demonstrated… so that we knew what it should taste like when we attempted it the next day!
And sometimes… in the afternoon… after such a full and multi-faceted day…happy and replete, I would look out the window of the demonstration room, to the small courtyard outside the school. The green of Eire and that huge beautiful sky soothed my soul.
And one day, beneath a ponderous sky…. there it was. A breathtaking double rainbow. So perfect. So Ballymaloe.