The Ballymaloe Cookery School, Ireland

posted on: Monday, 17 February 2014

Next to an apple orchard, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork

A bee gets first bite of the ripe raspberry

Chopping courgettes from the farm

Charming converted farmhouses

I'm up in the freezing early morning air to work in the greenhouse

The 'small' kitchen garden

Rows of kale, hothouse tomatoes, pumpkins gone wild and a field of berries, the Ballymaloe Cookery School is absolute heaven and I feel like I didn't do it justice when I visited as a student in August. So, here is a little trip down memory lane...

Catching the bus into Shanagarry, a quaint village in County Cork, the old bus driver and a local passenger insist on giving me lengthy directions for the ten minute walk up the country road. But despite their kind efforts, as the bus drove off a man called out to me from the little pub across the road. "Are you going to the cookery school?" Yes. "You're the one from Australia?" Wha? It turns out he is the son of the school's owners and after introducing me to his friends he insists on driving me up to the school. Without even finishing his Guinness. 

The Ballymaloe Cookery School sits within a picturesque 100 acre organic farm, an idyllic setting includes a field of raspberries humming with happy bees, an extensive flower garden with blooms in every colour and scent, a merry herd of jersey cows, and a paddock with rows of purple-hued cabbages. While the grounds hint at a relaxed, fresh-aired Irish charm, the family-run Ballymaloe attracts students from all over the world.

It's run by Darina Allen, the doyenne of Irish cooking (think Maggie Beer or Stephanie Alexander) along with Darina's brother Rory O'Connell who has worked in the best kitchens in San Francisco and Paris, and Darina's daughter-in-law, Rachel Allen, a celebrity TV chef with a huge following in Ireland and the UK. They are known for their Cordon Bleu-style 12 week course which readies students for work in professional kitchens, but there are also more social week-long courses, and day trips such as Autumn Foraging with Darina, or how to host a party with Rachel.

While I could go on about the amazing produce we used and the delicious dishes we made, frankly my favourite parts of the Ballymaloe course were outside of class. Most notably, the daily group breakfast. True to Irish hospitality, you start the day with an hour devoted to a truly hearty breakfast. There's no rushing as everyone chats over buttermilk porridge with peaches, soda bread with homemade raspberry jam and thick creamy butter, a huge banquet of cheeses, cucumber and tomatoes, and steaming hot Barry's Tea.

You can also choose if you want to partake in farm chores outside of class. I got up early to milk the cows, went fishing for mackerel in the freezing sea in the evenings, and picked the daily produce from the paddocks and green house. When not getting into the extracurricular activities, I hung out with classmates in our onsite accommodation, the most charming converted farmhouses filled with fresh flowers and cosy furnishings. They are conveniently close to the cookery school, past a little apple orchard, giving class members the opportunity to pick a rosy apply on the way to the day's lesson.

Right from the start to the very end I was also schooled in Irish hospitality, good manners and entertaining. These are the best lessons I learned about cooking (and eating) the Ballymaloe way:

1. Sit down for a long, proper meal: chat to others, savour your food, take your time.
2. Use ingredients from your garden: eat tomatoes warmed off the vine, snap super fresh cucumber, steal ripe berries from busy bees and decorate with all manner of herbs.
3. Be simple, but generous! Case in point, lather full cream butter on crusty sourdough bread.
4. Waste not: all scraps can be used in compost or to feed chooks. There is no reason to waste anything.

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