Bacon chops with whiskey

On the first day, in her introductory talk, Darina warned us about week 5. It’s the week when despair infects the campus and students throw down their knife rolls and cry out: “Why did I even come here?”

Darina affects not to know why this happens, but I suspect it’s down to us being here for over a month and finally realising that we don’t have a stunning, natural ability that’s so remarkable we’re pulled out of class and applauded by the entire teaching staff. The reality of the slog and the oncoming 6th week exams casts a gloom over our efforts.

With the black cloud in mind, our cooking schedule was fairly light. On Monday I was on white bread duty and I was allotted the bacon chop with fried bananas and whiskey sauce. I also made shortbread biscuits shaped like sheep because everyone loves biscuits shaped like sheep.

Bread and sheep

I can see the theory behind the bacon chop and executed by skilled chefs it might be a nice meal, but made by students who never plan to cook it again, it sails close to being inedible. My version suffered when the oven the bacon chops were keeping warm in was turned up to 230°C (probably for someone’s bread). 2 slabs of breadcrumbed leather sat on a searing hot plate and, combined with mushy, overripe fried banana and caramel whiskey sauce, they were mouth-wreckingly vile.

I would’ve been disheartened had I not tried someone else’s version and found myself chewing on tough pork, slimy bananas and sugary sauce. Add in a mouthful of wild garlic champ (caramel sauce and wild garlic champ should never be allowed in anyone’s mouth at the same time) and you have a lunch that ends up in the chicken bucket.

Breakfast on the go

Tuesday was breakfast day and there was a competition for the best Irish fry in each kitchen. A competition I was in no danger of winning as I was far too busy frying fadge (potato bread) when I should’ve been frying sausage, bacon, black and white pudding, mushroom, tomatoes and an egg. My cooking partner cooked both our breakfasts and we took them into the dining room at 12pm (half an hour late) to find all of the buck’s fizz had been drunk – damn those dipsomaniac students who finish on time.

I’d run late because I was on brown bread duty and made 2 loaves of brown soda bread, plus a poached dried fruit salad (very 1972 B&B) and kumquat marmalade, as well as the fadge. Well, I say I made kumquat marmalade and I did spend 30 minutes thinly slicing the little citrus fruits and poking all the pips out, but I didn’t exactly finish it.

3 words to strike despair into the heart of any Ballymaloe cookery student: Burnt Kumquat Marmalade. So much work and instead of potting up sweet, golden preserves, I was faced with boiling and scrubbing a very dirty pan. Up to my elbows in syrupy black water, with soft tendrils of burnt peel twisting around my fingers, I began to feel the misty grip of 5th week blues around the edges of my mind.

Burnt marmalade pan

Thursday was chilli con carne, which we were supposed to make with wonderful stewing beef, kidney beans, green peppers, a sauce you whizz up from chillies, garlic and red pepper and some cumin. As a dutiful student, I made it this way, tasted it and thought: “That needs something more.”

So I snuck into the weigh up area and concealed some ground coriander, cayenne, paprika and dried chilli flakes in my fist. I crept back to my cooking station and, making sure no one was looking, I quickly dumped the spices into my chilli. Much better, although it did still look like something that would get dumped on top of a jacket potato and flogged for £6 in a sweaty London pub.

Chilli con carne

Friday limped round and my cooking load was significantly lighter than any other day, which may’ve been down to the party we’d had at our cottage on Thursday night. It started as drinks and crudités, moved to dancing and beer and ended with Darina in our kitchen at 1am in her dressing gown demanding to know what all this noise was about.

I made a warm goat’s cheese and sun dried tomato pot with toast dippers and profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce. I should’ve been out of the kitchen at 12.30pm, lingering over lunch, but there was a flaw in my plan: I hadn’t anticipated the grevious lack of pastry cream in Kitchen 2.

At the start of the class our lead teacher announced that just a few sections would make pastry cream, which would then be mixed with whipped cream and everyone could fill their choux buns from the one central bowl. So I made pastry cream and, er, no one else did.


My pastry cream was mixed and passed around the kitchen but by the time I was ready to fill my pastry balls with sugary, buttery cream, there was none left. Half the kitchen had dessert finished, the other half was trudging between sections asking if anyone had made any pastry cream.

Finally, a few students accepted that more pastry cream had to be made. An hour and several ice baths later (to cool the cream), I was given a bowl of yellow stuff to squeeze into my pastry and serve with a pot of warm Valrhona chocolate sauce. I left the kitchen at 1.30pm – enough time to knock back 3 cups of coffee before afternoon demo and pray it’d keep me awake. For once, I’d got the caffeine levels right and I made it to the end. Week 5 done – just 7 more to go.

11 Responses to Week 5, 14th-17th days cooking, Ballymaloe Cookery School

  1. Between the poached fruit salad and the profiteroles it sounds like a bit of a retro week alright… but who could turn down profiteroles?

    It’s funny you should mention week 5 blues, because they made a big deal of them when I was in uni (read as: glorified boarding school). We’d special welfare events and everything – linked, the rumour went, to an unfortunate peak in the number of suicide attempts.

    On the plus side, by week 6 we were on the up and up again, so I hope you’ve a better week now. I’ve been loving the blog instalments to date 🙂

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      There’s a lot about Ballymaloe that’s pretty retro, but no one ever says no to profiteroles. Ever. And week 5 blues are obviously common to all educational establishments – they warned us about them a lot, but I found the amount of blues to be about the same as any other week.

  2. Paddy J says:

    Really great blog so far, enjoying the updates. I have now decided to take the 12 week course next year myself, yikes!
    Looking forward to hearing more from Ballymaloe

  3. Lisa says:


    A friend who lives in the UK (I’m in the US) and works in the food industry has suggested the Ballymaloe course to me, and I have stumbled on your blog during my research. I really think you’ve done a fantastic job with it – it is very entertaining and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it also provides a good and realistic idea of how it really is to be there, taking the course. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience! I am looking forward to following it through the completion of your course!


    • ginandcrumpets says:

      If you really do have chickens, then Darina will love you! She is mad about everyone having chickens and I’m on chicken feeding duty again this week. Thanks for the nice words about the blog; hope you enjoy reading it and it helps with your decision making.

  4. shayma says:

    i truly am enjoying the updates- it is my dream to go here one day and i love hearing/reading about your experiences. more more more, please. x shayma

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Thanks Shayma and don’t worry – I plan to go on and on and on about the things I get up to here! It’s a great course and worth a few year’s planning to do. 🙂

  5. […] down into a pan of boiling marmalade and I didn’t blink. I couldn’t risk it after the marmalade debacle the week before when I burnt a pan of kumquat preserve until it resembled the sort of thing […]

  6. Lizzie says:

    Oh my god – that bacon chop dish sounds like a monstrosity!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *