- Food & Drink
The 6th May was a significant day in my Ballymaloe cookery career: I earned my first blue plaster. I got my cobalt coloured sticky stripes peeling Bramleys for spicy apple chutney. In the pursuit of excellence, I was slicing off the tiny bits of peel that wouldn’t let go of the apple when the knife skittered and gauged a shallow, 1/4cm long cut into my pristine finger.
I’m a sensitive being, so this teeny tiny cut bled for 15 minutes and wads of scarlet kitchen paper were chucked into the non-recycling bin before I was allowed to put on the novice cook’s badge of pride. My left hand newly ennobled, and the chutney bubbling away like a vinegary bog, I set about the 2 loaves of bread I was baking that day.
I was on white soda bread duty and I’d decided to have a go at following the imperial measurements. The dough was still a little wet but an hour after I applied buttermilk to flour and soda, I had a soda bread cake that wouldn’t shame the dinner table. It was allowed to go out into the dining room.
My brown yeast bread was also allowed to go out, in spite of it resembling a brick in a vegan cafe wall. In a lesson on the importance of reading the recipe all the way to the end, the ingredients listed the yeast with “(mix with 5fl oz warm water)” next to it. In the method, it said “mix the treacle with the warm water, then sprinkle in the yeast”. I hadn’t even noticed treacle in the ingredients list.
I ran to the weigh up area and hauled a vat of treacle back to my work bench and then tried to measure 1 tsp out of it, which isn’t easy when you’re pouring treacle out of a 2kg bottle. And then, like a woman who hates bread, I stirred it into the yeast and water. Oh, you never stir yeast and water, oh no you don’t.
My teacher shook her head at the tragedy of it and told me to leave it for a few minutes, but it won’t froth up, and then go ahead and mix the bread, which should just about work. It just about did.
The yeast, after the shock of being stirred, managed to lift the dough until it was just peeking above the edges of the tin but the oven spring didn’t happen. The loaf had reached a height it was comfortable with and wouldn’t be encouraged any further, no matter how much sudden, intense heat was applied.
Luckily, my bread was mostly for hiding under freshly boiled Ballycotton Bay prawns. Incredibly, I managed not to slice open more of my fingers on these little monsters’ sharp, armour plating shells and disemboweling them was a roller coaster ride of triumph (“I got the intestinal tract out in 1 tug!”) and digging around inside them with a small knife, fearing for my fingers again and wondering whether anyone would notice how badly I’d mangled the prawns in the hunt for their digestive tracts.
Not if you stick an unshelled, undisembowelled prawn over the top of them, leering at the diner and apparently bumping up the amount you can charge per meal by a considerable margin. And when you pipe home-made mayonnaise onto the plate as well, you can start demanding your customers wear shirts and ties.
Thursday 6th May: I got a blue plaster and a piped mayonnaise. History will remember you.