Every day at Ballymaloe brings something new and interesting and inspiring. We have settled (kind of) in to our routine here – ruled by the lists that are put up every day telling us what we are cooking, and by the lists put up every week telling us our daily responsibilities or chores over the coming week. We move kitchens (and cooking partners) every week, and so have to get used to a new environment, a new set of kitchens and placements. Its challenging, but its so much fun!
Every day brings new things to cook, new techniques to master, and new ways of looking at and engaging with the world of food. There is so much to soak in, so much to do and think about. Every day is different – and most are overwhelming in one way or another.
Here, then, are days 5 – 9 at Ballymaloe. Enjoy.
Day 5 – Beginning to Find Our Feet
This was the last day of our first week at Ballymaloe, and reflected, really, the rhythm which will define our lives for the next few months. In the morning, we presented our order of work to our teachers, and we cooked dishes from the demonstration on Day 3 (Day 4 was Theory Day).
Things seemed easier today – the kitchens were more familiar, the processes were a little clearer, and we were having fun.
I made a beautifully simple wild rocket, Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese salad, drizzled with honey, lemon juice and olive oil, and seasoned with Maldon salt (for that lovely minerally flavour, as Rory says) and cracked black peppercorns. Such a simple combination, but just a gorgeous juxtaposition of flavours. This salad really reflects the philosophy of Ballymaloe – find the best possible ingredients, of the highest quality and the clearest provenance, and present with care and grace. Decorated simply with a chive flower.
I also made brown bread again today, and it was beautiful. Well salted (this time!), warm, solid, rich and comforting. Who knew that bread like this took about 5 minutes to make – and 4 1/2 of those minutes are taken up with measuring ingredients! So simple, and so delicious.
I also made a chocolate hazelnut tart – I was disappointed with this one. I checked it and it was quite far from done. I then started plating my salad and went into raptures about the taste of fresh chives. When I taste the produce at Ballymaloe, its sometimes like tasting things for the very first time. The flavours are so layered, so intense, so new… Amazing. Anyway. My tart went, in the space of a few minutes, from underdone to overdone. It was still tasty, and the flavours were there, it just wasnt as gooey as it should have been.
In the afternoon, we had a demonstration of the dishes we cooked on Monday. It was a beautiful day … and this was the view from the classroom. Nourishment everywhere.
Day 6 – Exploring
Day 6 was Saturday. My first full week at Ballymaloe over. So intense, and so quick, too.
On this day, I stayed in bed late, though I woke at 730 in the morning (I know, my friends will be shocked!). But it was a lazy morning, slowly inhaling the luxury of my place in the world.
Around 11ish (I think), I ambled over to the White Cottage to see if my new beloved friend K wanted to go over to Midleton (the nearest market town) for the Farmer’s Market. Ballymaloe Cookery School has a stall at the Market, and students can go (at 6 am) to set up and work at the stall on weekends. But this weekend, my first in County Cork, my first in Ireland … I wanted to experience rather than work.
So off we went … Midleton is about 15 – 20 minutes drive away, through gorgeous country side, on small side roads. It was an adventure, and the Farmer’s Market did not disappoint. I think I might have gone a little nuts. I bought 5 loaves of the artisanal Arbutus Bread – another company which works closely with Ballymaloe, and which accepts students (at midnight on a Friday) to work through the night to be ready for the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. I got a gorgeous brown Irish soda bread, a white sourdough, a medieval bread (with figs and hazelnuts), a crocodile loaf and a brown bread. Something had to go on the bread, so I also picked up a smoked Ardsallagh goat’s cheese, a 2 year old Cheddar that blew my mind, and a mild and creamy raw milk Durrus cheese. To go with the cheese, I found some quince paste, smoked sun dried tomatoes, and a garlic, olive and caper paste. There was also some wild honey, a few limes, some wild mushrooms, courgettes, chili and garlic. I couldnt stay away from Frank Hederman’s stall – the smoked salmon (both hot smoked with chili and cold smoked), as well as a bit of smoked mackerel pate. And because I was a tad peckish after all that shopping, a warm cafe latte, a butternut and feta pyhllo pastry, and a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart.
I was struck by two things at this market. First of all was the incredibly high quality of the food available. Every supplier had the absolute best, freshest, most extraordinary produce. They knew their product, and were joyful in talking about where it came from, how it was produced or made, and what their favourites were. The second thing that really struck me was that almost every stall holder sent us on to another stall – Arbutus Breads telling us how wonderful the rye would taste with some Ardsallagh cheese, and so on. It was communal, and it was so enjoyable.
K and I also went to the Army Navy surplus store (where I got boots in anticipation of my cow milking shenanigans on Monday), as well as browsing through a lovely health food shop. On our way home, we encountered the pig that lives next to the pub down the road from the school. She is lovely and pink and huge and seemed delighted to meet us.
And then it was home, through the brilliant green, and outside in the back garden of my little cottage. Such bliss, such bliss, I can never express. A carpet of white flowers on the green grass, and an old tree whispering joy to me.
Day 7 – More Adventures
Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, but it didnt work out that way for me. I was ready for more exploration, and so went to Middleton with three of my housemates – M, C + M. We made the rounds of the Army Navy surplus, the Tesco’s for house supplies, and the health food shop. We then decided to have a wander down Main Street, Midleton, which you can walk in about 5 – 10 minutes. We were obviously very happy.
M suggested we stop by Sage restaurant to have a coffee, because she had been there for dinner before the course started, and had raved about it. We all agreed that a coffee sounded good, but when we got there, we were seduced by the lively atmosphere, and enticing scents coming from the open kitchen. Of course, we ended up having a meal there. We were all a bit peckish, and ready to be pampered by good food and good company.
I was really in need of a little chili infusion – as much as I adore the flavours and freshness all around me, I needed some depth of heat. A beautifully prepared Huevos Rancheros, bursting with chili and flavour hit the spot. M had a beautiful green salad and garlicky prawns, M had lamb’s kidneys with black pudding, and C had a traditional roast. We ended with a shared blueberry mousse tart, with the gorgeous addition of chopped chocolate – an intriguing and delicious combination of flavours.
On the way home, I introduced my housemates to the friendly piggy by the pub. Dropping off the shopping, M and I went off on another adventure. First we stopped by the Craft Centre at the bottom of the road, and I was seduced by an Orla Kiely handbag! But we soon decided that we wanted something completely different and so drove to Ballycotton (about 5 minutes away by car) and stood and watched the sea. Deep salt scented breaths filled us with happiness.
Sometimes, you just need to go and be by the sea, you know? I find it extraordinary that we can be immersed in the country side one minute, and the next, caught up in the freedom and the wildness of the sea. Stunning contrasts.
And finally, we stopped at the petrol station and bought two apples and went and visited our pub pig. Our friend, Ms. Piggy was very happy to see us again. Have you ever seen a pig canter over to you with joy? I was glad there was a big sturdy gate between us, because she literally raced over to say hello. She was the perfect cap to a wonderful weekend.
Day 8 – Monday Bloody Monday
Monday arrived, and with it a whole new week of possibility at Ballymaloe. Unfortunately, due to my own stupidity, this day was a tad overwhelming for me. Every day, we get assigned one chore to do. Sometimes they are difficult – like being the student supervisor for one of the dining rooms, and ensuring that everyone does their duty. Other days, the jobs are simple – feed the hens the slop bucket by the end of lunch, for example.
On Monday morning, bright and early at 730 am, I was in front of the school waiting to go and help to milk the cows. This was not a duty, but rather an experience you could sign up for, and I had been looking forward to it for ages. I suddenly realised I should check and see if my daily duty would intersect with my cow milking – and it did! I was up for making stock at 8am. However, as anyone who knows me well will tell you, 730am is not a good time for me to be functional – and I misread my duties!
So I did half the milking of cows, raced back to the school, and helped to make stock (basically, I chopped some onions for half an hour), and then proceeded to cooking. By lunch time, I was feeling a bit tired so walked back to the cottage for a little rest – only to have a student be sent to fetch me! I had not done my duty – feeding the hens! I went back to school, to protest my innocence (stock making was my deal!) and realised, it was my mistake. So I fed the hens – not really a difficult job – 5 minutes walk in the sunshine and a little chat with the hens while they clamber over each other to get to your slop bucket. But I had really been hoping for a little lie down, and was feeling a bit ragged for the days lecture demonstration.
And then … at the end of the demonstration, we try and taste all the food that has been prepared in front of us. Not only so that there is no waste, but also because we will be cooking it the next day, and they want to ensure that we get the taste and flavour right. Of course, students have extra jobs here, in rota, and help to serve the food and clean up the kitchens afterwards. After all the extra bits I tagged on to my day, I was called up to help serve! So serve I did … but I promise, by the time I got home, I felt like I had been run over by a steam train. I had no capacity for rational thought or movement, whatsoever.
But it was a good lesson – in how hard everyone really works at Ballymaloe, how tough it is to maintain such a balanced and beautiful ecosystem, and how important it is to be responsible for one’s own work. It was an exhausting day, but well worth it.
And oh … the cows! Two Jersey cows, chosen not only for the rich creaminess of their milk, but for their placid nature. They have no problem with new students coming and learning about milking, and asking the same questions over and over again. Neither does Eileen, who brings the cows in every morning and taught me about the process. A happier, more content woman I have never met. Eileen is pure joy – she loves her work, she loves being out in the country, and she loves her cows.
Besides the two Jersey cows, there were two babies – on the left, the lucky girl, who will be raised to be a milk cow. And on the right, the unlucky boy who, in 6 months time, will be veal. Eileen was already in love with him, but I fell completely too. And we stood there with tears in our eyes at his fate – but also totally accepting and understanding that this is life at Ballymaloe – the eternal cycle.
So the two cows were led into the milking shed, and locked into place. They grazed at a big trough of food, while we humans were one level below them. We donned leather aprons, and I followed Eileen as she rinsed off the cows udders to ensure everything was clean clean, pinched each udder to check milk flow and attached a suction cap to each of the four udders. I was terrified that the cows would just casually kick back, but they are so ready to milk by that time – they are swollen with milk – that they just kind of groan in relief when the suction cups go on.
The milk gets piped through into this machine and filtered. The Allen family drink raw cow’s milk, and my housemates and I are hoping we will be able to get our hands on a regular supply too! It is so good for you – and tastes … like real milk, nothing you have ever experienced before.
So I had to cut the milking experience short, unfortunately, but stock making with Debbie was educational and then off I went for the morning’s cooking. I made a bean and mushroom stew from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe. It was delicious.
I also made rice, in a new and fascinating way… and I made some phenomenally out of this world, luxurious and decadent Crunchy Orange Butter Scones . This is an easy recipe, but is decadence piled upon decadence – the scone dough is spread with orange butter, and rolled up like a jelly roll. The scones are cut, dipped in egg wash, and then in sugar, and baked. Out of this world delicious.
In the afternoon, we were visited by Robbie Fitzsimmons of East Ferry Free Range – a sixth generation chicken farmer. Robbie spoke to us about the imperatives of supporting local small farmers. We learned that chickens could be imported into Ireland, rebagged, and be called Irish chickens in the supermarket! We learned that the directives and laws from the EU have impacted in how the chickens are reared, slaughtered and fed to the detriment of the small farmer. It was an eye opening, and heart breaking visit. Robbie is obviously someone who cares about his work, who loves what he does, and who is committed to creating a high quality product for the market. But the struggles he has with maintaining his integrity in a world filled with supermarket chains and mass consumption are real and tangible.
And that afternoon, Darina took us through the jointing of a chicken, to ensure that (at least for those of us who ate meat), we would maximise the potential of the chicken. Every scrap of the chicken is used, and she showed us how to get multiple meals from a single bird. The message was, prepare carefully and with forethought, joint the chicken well and use every bit that you can, and pay more for the expensive, local bird which will be free range at the very least, and organic.
And after demonstration, I served up, and tried not to fall over on my face. I staggered home and went straight to bed, being the princess that I am! But I was determined not to sleep – and so wandered downstairs to be tempted by Gina, my housemate, who felt like a bit of pizza! We went out into the night on a pizza foraging expedition, and found wood fired pizza at Pizzeria San Marco in Midleton (20 minutes or so away!). It is owned and run by a former student of Ballymaloe, so we knew the quality would be of an exacting standard – and it was!
I fell asleep that night with the satisfaction of a woman who had had a full and happy day… and woke at 230am realising I had not done my order of work! It never ends 😉
Day 9 – A Good Day
Tuesday, Week 2, was a balanced day for me. Cooking in the morning was both wonderful – I made lemon drizzle biscuits, rhubarb crumble tart and a grapefruit and grape mint cocktail – and a tad traumatic – I had to joint a chicken. As a vegetarian, this was not a pleasurable experience, but I understand why I need to know this skill. Ballymaloe connects us with the cycle of consumption – of the choices we make in our food – and ensures that we really acknowledge what a chicken is made of and how it is jointed and prepared. No styrofoam packaged, cling film wrapped “orphan” chicken of no known provenance here!
My best dish today was the rhubarb crumble tart. The tart shell was perfect – crisp and holding together nicely. The rhubarb was sugared well, and juicy and tart. And the crumble, which included chopped almonds – was beautifuly crumbly and nubbly without being overwhelming. All in all, I was very satisfied.
In the afternoon, we had a demonstration by Rory – how to make one of the most valuable Mother sauces – mayonnaise; how to make harissa (yum!!!), brawn, and a variety of warm salads, and sponge puddings. As usual, it was lovely to watch him work.
And in the gathering softness of the evening, my housemates and I were invited over to Darina and Tim’s beautiful, warm, art filled house for drinks. We went and marveled and chatted – slightly nervous, but so graciously received, and so well fed, that most of us relaxed relatively quickly.
These are the days at Ballymaloe – every day different and challenging, but finding a rhythm that works and is engaging. I am having the time of my life! And tomorrow … we learn how to make cheese!