Hanging onions

Week 4 began at 8am inside a postbox red van. Every day 2 students are rotaed to help gather the herbs and vegetables we need for that morning’s cooking and I was driving down to the 1 acre glasshouse with The Head Gatherer. The sky was blue, the air was fresh and I was maliciously pleased that my duty partner had failed to turn up because it proved I wasn’t the only responsible adult who cocks up their duties.

My townie familiarity with gardening was in full evidence as I hesitantly set about slashing sage stalks from the bushes and cutting enormous Cos lettuces from the ground. I came back triumphantly with my 8 lettuces and half a box of herbs and found the van already filled with 5 crates of herbs and salad leaves.

Back in the glasshouse The Head Gatherer was hooking down bunches of new season onions. A few days before, I and a couple of other students were prowling the weigh up area and larder, pulling out cartons, lifting lids off boxes and optimistically opening jars. When a teacher asked us what we were looking for, we said: “Onions.” She pulled out a basket of what looked like tough, fat spring onions and said: “Onions. Real ones,” and shook her head at our ignorant vegetable ways.

Dribbly egg and gubeen salad

Back in Kitchen 2 I was on my own again, as my cooking partner was away for the day. We’d been assigned Warm salad of Gubbeen bacon with poached egg and Parmesan, Traditional roast stuffed chicken, Bread sauce, Gravy, Rustic roast potatoes, Creamed celery and Great grandmother’s butter sponge. I put a grim look of determination on my face and set about trying to make them all in the 2 and a half hours of official cooking time I had left (plus I had to whip cream as I was dining room supervisor that day).

This lasted half an hour. My teacher reviewed my order of work and said that I didn’t have to do it all, especially the bread sauce and creamed celery because no one ever eats the stuff. So, just a warm salad, a stuffed chicken, gravy, roast potatoes and a cake to do, then.

This insane workload suited me perfectly. Throughout this week I’ve proved over and over again that I always massively overestimate what I can do in the cooking time allotted and then kill myself trying to get it done, ditching finesse and refinement as I go, finally serving up what can only be described as “edible food.” You couldn’t charge a lot for it, but by God, you can definitely eat it and not die.

Stuffed roast beast

Cake made, I stuffed my chicken with a mixture of garden herbs, breadcrumbs and butter and calculated that it would take until at least 12.30pm to cook. In fact, it was probably ready about 20 minutes before that because the black section oven is always a little bit hotter than it lets on. But I didn’t know that, so I slightly overcooked my chicken.

Rachel had showed us how to test a chicken to see if it’s cooked by giving the leg a gentle tug. If it feels like it will come away from the body, then it’s ready. I gave my chicken’s leg a delicate pull. The bone came away in my hand. I hastily shoved it back into the chicken, rescued the bird from the oven and calculated that no one would notice once I’d plated the meal up.

Victoria sponge

They didn’t – I’d caught it before it started to dry out and once carved (I almost know how to carve a chicken properly now), covered with gravy and sat next to roast potatoes, it looked like a delicious, if very, very brown meal.

The salad was also a dish of triumph in the sense that everything on it tasted good – my poached egg was set but dribbly, my bacon was crispy and my Caesar salad dressing was punchy. That it looked like an angry monkey had thrown it onto the plate in a fit of simian pique was immaterial (apart from me losing a mark for it). I’m to work on my presentation. I can feel a few prayers and sacrifices to the Kitchen Muses coming on.

4 Responses to Day 22, 10th day cooking, Ballymaloe Cookery School

  1. Wish I’d waited til later to read this – I’m blinking starving now! That cake looks absolutely marvelous. Nice move on the chicken 😉

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Thanks, I think I was particularly crafty to get the bone back in before anyone noticed. Top tip to anyone carving chickens there: no one notices anything once the gravy goes on.

  2. Niamh says:

    Hilarious! Don’t let angry monkeys plate your food.S ounds like you’re having fun. x

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Monkeys plating food may have more visual imagination than me. I might dip the chickens’ feet in sauces and encourage them to walk across my plates from now on. I think that would be new and exciting and also delicious looking, too.

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