- Food & Drink
It’s 8am and I’m writing this sat in the courtyard (because the wifi won’t work in my cottage) with a cup of tea and the chicken’s squawks for company. I’ve already fed the chickens, sorted the recycling, tramped up and down the gardens to the bins, washed up, tidied up and made a pot of tea the Ballymaloe way (with tea leaves and pot scalding). If there is one thing the course is not short on, it’s work. I’ve been in bed by 9.30pm every night.
But on day 1 this was all to be revealed and I bounced into the coffee area like an excitable kitten with newly opened eyes. A cup of coffee and a scone later (rate of scone consumption so far: 1 a day), I was faced with Darina Allen wielding a wooden spoon. “By the end of this course, we want you to be able to make your living with just this!” she said, waving the spoon. And with that the course began.
The first day of the course is an information dump. School layout, garden layout, farm layout, hen feeding, rota duties, composting, recycling and recipe demonstrations all whizzed past, broken up by a 4-course lunch served in the garden cafe. It began with the seating dance that people who don’t know each other engage in. We hovered and dipped around the tables, trying to catch someone’s eye, and whispering: “May I sit there? Do you mind?”
Finally seated, we were served by the teachers. Lunch began with tomato and basil soup made from frozen tomato pulp from their own crop. Garnished with a slick of cream, it tasted as fresh as if the tomatoes had been pulled off the vine that morning. As you can see from the picture, I ate the lot – rather quickly
The second course was a tasting plate and Darina explained that it was very important that we tasted everything while we were here. Everything. And she swooped down on one poor girl exclaiming: “But you haven’t tried your olive!” I, on the other hand, had eaten my olive, a Kalamata olive and very nice too.
The plate was a selection of artisanal foods, mostly from the Cork area (Kalamata olives excluded), and home-grown/made Ballymaloe products. All delicious, but the biggest revelation to me was the home-made mayonnaise. I’ve long loathed the white slop that mars many a sandwich in the UK, but this egg-rich mayonnaise was buttery and thickset. I dipped Ballycotton prawns in it and then, when they ran out, spread it like butter on soda bread.
Pudding was a spoonful of yellow cream from the farm’s Jersey cows, rhubarb compote, crunchy hazelnut meringue filled with the first of the Irish strawberries and mangoes tossed with lime juice. There was a cheeseboard and fresh biscuits on offer, but I settled for a cup of coffee and went to my afternoon lectures. I had to pinch myself every 15 minutes to stay awake. Lunch is clearly going to be a trial by pleasure.