Ballymaloe Cookery School

Darina Allen at Ballymaloe organic beetroot

When Darina Allen sat down to talk to us, a small group of food writers, it was just after her son and daughter in law, Rachel Allen. It was definitely nap time, and I put my camera in my bag along with my notepad, and contemplated having a little bit of a mental break while sit around in a kitchen, listening as Darina planned to tell us about her Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Well, that was the wrong idea. Because within seconds after Darina started talking, I scrambled around in my messenger bag for my notepad and pen because every word and phrase that came out of her mouth was note-worthy.

learn to cook squash

I’m not a reporter and can’t write very fast (thirty five years working in professional kitchens seem to be taking their toll), plus I’ll never be a journalist because I always get too involved in what I’m seeing or who I’m talking to rather than focusing on taking notes and zeroing in on facts and figures. But I tried to catch as much as I could as she spoke faster than I could jot things down.

Darina started Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1983. When starting out, she had no idea what she was doing, and no money, but decided to take a cooking class with Marcella Hazan in Italy. At their final dinner, on the Adriatic, she said to us “I was eating this lovely dinner, and thought—We have the same fresh, high-quality ingredients in Ireland. And you know what? Our fish is better!

Her eyes were bright as she spoke, behind her red-rimmed glasses. She was no-nonsense, which are the kind of cooks I’ve always worked with and liked. People who are wishy-washy don’t cut it for me and Darina has definitive ideas about how things should and shouldn’t be, making her my kind of person. She told us of several ‘chefs’ she’d met over the years had no idea what went in to raising the ingredients that they cooked with and thought that anyone who wanted to be a chef “absolutely” had to spend a year working in a garden first, before even stepping into a kitchen.

Irish brown bread Darina Allen at Ballymaloe

Passing through the kitchen and dish washing area, there was a bowl with perhaps a scant handful of honeycrunch crumbs left, which most kitchen folks would toss out. Lifting the bowl and running her fingers through the candied nuggets, she pointed it out to no one in particular, but made a general announcement; “Will some make sure this gets folded into some ice cream?”

A bowl of langoustine shells were also targeted; “Make sure we don’t waste these. Will someone please make these into a bisque?” Which wasn’t really a question, and you knew both would happen as soon as she left the kitchen.

fruit at Ballymaloe sleeping dog

Lest you think it’s all work at Ballymaloe, sometimes all creatures, great and small, do take a pause around there. Dogs aren’t the only ones hard at work at Ballymaloe, but the work the chickens do is important to the school, the garden, and the general cycle of life here. “I feed them kitchen scraps, and a few days later, they give them back to us as eggs” said Darina.

chickens

And sure enough, she hefted a full bucket from the kitchen of scraps and we ran to keep up with her as she fed the chickens leisurely plucking around the grounds. In case you’re wondering what came first, the chicken or the egg, there’s no definitive answer. But she told us where her chickens come from. “We have little chicks in the office, in an incubator. They just love it in there—and we love them too.”

Darina Allen feeding the hens hens eating

In addition to ten full-time gardeners, everyone works at the farm. When her daughter got married, she put big dishes of peas and shelling beans on the tables and guests shucked their own dinner. (So for those of you planning on getting married and want to cut down on costs, her solution like a brilliant idea.)

Lest you think this is a fantasy place, where folks idly pluck fruit from the trees and fold candy into ice cream, there’s the bright spirit of honest work going on here. A cooking class was taking place, and the room was packed. Some students stay at the school for months, while others come for an afternoon.

Construction at Ballymaloe

We passed the housing for guests, that was under massive construction, as you can see. Judging by our quizzical looks, “Oh yes,” she confirmed, “they’ll be done by Sunday. They have to be; we have guests coming at 3pm who are staying there.”

Normally I would have said, “Um, lady, have you ever dealt with contractors before?” But she must have read my mind, “Yes, of course they’ll be done.” I didn’t see how that would be possible, but when she went over to talk some of the workers, you could see how much they were attached to Ballymaloe and how they respected her.

But I also saw how they got fed during lunchtime and I’m sure that none of the other places they work feed them like this.

swiss chard Darina Allen foraging

Ballymaloe is situated in the middle of a hundred acre organic farm. One section, the newest, was rows and rows and rows of thorny bushes, a few bearing the last hazy-red, plump raspberries of summer. “Oh, I love raspberries so much, but couldn’t find enough organic berries. So we planted a whole lot of them! Isn’t it just lovely?”

onions beware of swarming bees

Before we went into their greenhouses, where onions were drying from the rafters (which gave me a fright; I first thought they were bunches of shrunken heads—perhaps the remnants of contractors who didn’t finish on time…or as a warning to those who don’t?) and Swiss chard in a variety of brilliant colors was shooting out from the dirt, I had to get a picture of the sign warning about the bees. I guess bees like organic raspberries, too.

orange pepper scarecrow

I am making plans to go back in the spring to take Darina’s foraging class. (And I’d love to teach a class…fresh organic raspberry ice cream anyone?) Just the idea of running around the gardens foraging for wild ingredients with Darina, then making rose hip syrup, nettle soup, sloe gin (!), and damson-blackberry jam sounds like too much fun to me. I’m already exhausted, and excited, just thinking about it.


Ballymaloe Cookery School
Cork, Ireland


Related Posts and Recipes

Plum and Rhubarb Crisp

Making Irish Butter

Ballymaloe Chocolate Almond Gâteau (BBC)

Ballymaloe White Soda Bread (Rachel Allen)

Real Irish Coffee

Ballymaloe Brown Bread (Epicurious)

Midleton Farmers Market

44 comments

  • Enchanting, David. I am putting it on my must-do list for the next trip to Ireland.
    ps. have fun at the signing today!

  • oh. david. I am so jealous.
    This Irish trip of yours is just killing me with wonderful.

  • Lovely to read this! We stopped there for afternoon tea a few years ago and had a mosey around, fascinating place! I would love to go there on a course, let us know if you do go there to take an ice-cream making one, I think that would give me the push to book a place!

  • It all sounds absolutely wonderful – I am sure that you are going to love your class there.

  • That scarecrow is awesome. I’m constantly amazed by the efforts people go through to make sure we eat well!

  • Thinking I need to book a “research” trip to Ireland…

  • My family is from Sligo, Ireland. When I saw the name Ballymaloe, I just
    had to take a peep. Interesting post. I have to say in the 70′s the
    cooking in Ireland was very so-so. Now Paris was fantastic.

  • Do what most “real” reporter did long ago and dump the pen and pad in favour of a digital voice recorder. If you ask nicely and explain that you are pants with a pen and pad, most people won’t mind and you might find that some will take out their own digital voice recorder so that they can check your quotes later. Decent ones cost about 40 Euros. I know it doesn’t look as cool but you can pay more attention to the person who’s talking and rarely miss anything.

    BTW, did you “do” the English Market when you were in Cork? It’s older than Barcelona’s Boqueria market.

  • I went on my second trip to Ireland at the end of May and fell in love all over again. I have been obsessing about going back and your recent posts just make me want to all the more. In my opinion, the best thing about Ireland are its people; they are so warm and friendly and funny.

  • Ballymaloe is a wonderful, magicial place. We spent a long weekend at the Inn there a few years back and I’ve always wanted to go back to the cookery school. The food in the dining room was all local – We knew the cream on our breakfast oats was from the herd of cows grazing outside. My son was wondering what the children’s “tea” would be one night so we asked at the desk and were told they didn’t know yet as the fishing boats had not yet come in to the pier in town! Did almost get attacked by a mama goose, though.

  • Hi Stephen: Yes, and the iPhone has a voice recorder, too. But you’re right; doing it that way does allow me to just be there and experience things. I did go to the English market & am going to write a bit about it in my Ireland wrap-up post, which is coming up.

    Jeanette: I would love to go back and teach a class there, and take one as well. If I did, it would likely be in the spring, when the garden is coming into full bloom again. There probably won’t be any raspberries unless I wait until August…and I don’t know if I can wait that long!

  • While I know there’d be a lot of work involved in running such a place as that, I can’t help thinking it looks wonderfully idyllic.

    Except for the swarming bees. That’s slightly more panic-inducing.

  • Delighted to read your Irish posts – I’m writing from Dublin and getting to Ballymaloe remains an ambition. You struck gold when you met Darina Allen – did you happen to meet her mother-in-law, Myrtle? Another living legend, full of good sense and uncompromising standards. She ran a restaurant in Paris – la ferme irlandaise – in, I think, the late ’70s – early ’80s.

    I hope your Ballymaloe course comes to pass – do give some advance notice!

    Slán go fóill

  • I have visited Ballymalloe and the grounds are just breathtaking. I met Darina once at an Irish market, I bought some tomato chutney from her. I didn’t want to gush all over her so I just took my purchase quietly but she resonates power and personality!

  • I’m Rachel Allen obsessed! I’m so happy you have shared 2 stories about her life! Thanks!

  • I follow a German food blogger, Claudia @ Fool for Food. She posted her 12 week experiences at the school just recently. It was very interesting to follow her through her classes.

    More info here.

    http://www.foolforfood.de/index.php/tag/ballymaloe

  • i just read this lovely entry and immediately emailed my mother telling her we needed to go to Ballymaloe. i’ve read a number of articles about it (i think Gourmet had a great scoop on it a year or so ago; RIP Gourmet…) and every time i feel so inspired.

  • I am so delighted reading your posts on Ireland. You have had a ball and sampled some fine foodie delights.

    But I am just thinking (rather selfishly) that I would have loved to meet the author of ‘The Great Book of Chocolate’. When I am feeling a little under the weather I read your diary of the week spend in a chocolate shop. Super stuff.

  • Darina’s Guinness stew is awesome!

  • Lives what she believes. Very refreshing.

  • I loved this story and identify with a strong no nonsense woman…I am one!

    And I agree with the suggestion of the other visitor who suggested a recorder. I guess I can write fast enough, but I just don’t really get the same measure of experience when I’m constantly looking up and down and paying half of my attention to writing. It will free you to totally concentrate on the person at hand.

  • A beautiful post and what a lovely garden! There really is something so comforting about knowing just how your food was raised… That’s why I garden anyway. Love the chickens in the scraps! They look so happy just pecking about.

    I never thought about feeding the contractors — I bet they would work better for food!

  • I particularly love the picture about swarming bees. It reminds me dearly of a similar sign in the Luxembourg Gardens that warns one “NE PAS MARCHER SUR LA PELOUSE, DANGER ABEILIES”!

  • David……..I love all your blogs……….they are all most interesting….I felt as if I were with you at Ballymaloe Cooking School……..
    Thanks for being so explicit………..and descriptive!

  • She’s right, -anyone who cooks should also know how to grow a garden. They’re both so satisfying to the soul.

  • I bought her cookbook years and years ago and sad to say, it sits on my shelf. After your posts, I’ll pull it down and give a recipe a try. I just loved the pictures and read all the recipes. I prefer cookbooks to fiction!

  • David, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your posts from Ireland. I went to Ireland for the first time a couple months ago and I completely took for granted their fantastic food culture (especially the cheese, how could I?!). You’ve convinced me that I must go back, and I might just start with a class at Darina’s school. I love the chickens, and the garden… she’s living my dream (the one where I run a cookery school). And I love her red-rimmed glasses!

  • If you want any sloes for gin, please come over to Normandy!!! we’ve got at least 5 trees on the property and you can forge all you want!

  • Did she not mention Myrtle Allen? She is the one who started the Ballymaloe restaurant, before there ever was a cooking school. Ate there many years ago, bought Myrtle’s cookbook and still use some of the recipes. Your pictures make me want to go back, alas not likely.

  • Ellen & Ellis: Yes, the place has quite a history. During the limited time we had, we focused on the gardens and the cookery school. But I do need to go back and learn more. It seems like it’d take a lifetime to soak it all up!

    Gabrielle: Ha! Usually the signs in the Paris parks say to stay off the grass because “it is taking a break.” Glad to know the bees are keeping intruders in line as well : )

    My Kitchen in the Rockies: I was looking for some links by people who’ve visited the school so thanks for sending that one along, even though my German is pretty limited (ie: non-existent). But the pics are lovely.

    Suzy: You should have said hello. She’s a lovely woman, very strong, but very passionate about what she’s doing.

  • Thanks for the beautiful post, David. I loved it!
    I’ve been reading Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking which is so much fun. My five year old likes reading about keeping chickens and ducks. I liked baking the Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread. Absolutely simple, absolutely delicious- a perfect way to start bread baking, especially if you are afraid or too busy to think. Stir it up, preheat the oven, and bake. All done in less than 2 hours with no kneading and no fuss. A bit of wholesome Irish country cooking to cheer and sustain us!

  • Ballymaloe was a highlight of a long-ago visit for us too. Their recipe for Turkey White Turkey Brown is an all-time favorite, a real show stopper. Make you proud to be Irish! (The Sullivans hail from nearby County Kerry).

  • I bought her cookbook last spring. I like to read it while laying in my hammock, and dream of my own cookery school in Northern California. But I think that if my dream comes true, there will be no more laying in my hammock!

  • I had a wonderful time teaching at Darina’s extraordinary school, and it is absolutely true about Ireland having terrific fish. The difference is that Italians know how to cook it.

  • Thoroughly enjoy your updates.

    Re: “I’m not a reporter and can’t write very fast (thirty five years working in professional kitchens seem to be taking their toll), plus I’ll never be a journalist because I always get too involved in what I’m seeing or who I’m talking to rather than focusing on taking notes and zeroing in on facts and figures. But I tried to catch as much as I could as she spoke faster than I could jot things down,” FWIW, check out this review of Livescribe’s Echo smartpen:

    http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/a-college-student-reviews-a-smartpen/?scp=2&sq=pen%20for%20note%20taking&st=Search

    Cheers,
    Frank

  • I’m so jealous of you being able to go back to make Sloe gin. It is nectar.

  • Thanks for giving us an inside peak into Ballymaloe. I only just learned about Darina Allen and Ballymaloe after reading a review of her new book Forgotten Skills of Cooking. I’m starting a cookbook club and, because Darina Allen just sounds so darn impressive, I have added two of her books—the Forgotton Skills book plus Irish Traditional Cooking—to my “wishlist” of cookbooks for the club. But I see that she has written several more. Which would you recommend for American home cooks new to Darina Allen? Do you have a favorite? By the way, we give our chickens kitchen scraps too, but indirectly. They get into our compost pile.

  • Places like Ballymaloe, which has me dreaming just reading about it, seem like heaven on earth. Why bother with rain on dreary pavement and office jobs when you could be having your own amazing farm and giving cooking classes? I’ve got something to daydream about today ;)

  • Hmm… already dreaming about a cooking class at Ballymaloe :)

  • Sounds like heaven on earth. A visit and some classes is now on my bucket list.

  • Sounds lovely. I wish we’d visited during our trip to Ireland (mostly The North) last March.

    Also: that is the most charming scarecrow/garden netting I have ever seen.

  • Thank you for sharing your Ballymaloe cooking experience. I would join you for the cooking class, please keep us posted. The cooking school was closed when we visited in August ’08 and I’ve been looking for a way to get back. The sign you posted about bees reminded me of a sign at the Ballymaloe house which became the poetic theme of our family vacation – “drive slowly lambs.” After hustling kids through the city pace of London where arguments and timeouts ensued, the kids and their smiles came alive on the grounds of Ballymaloe where they could roam safely, enjoy nature and its animals and where us parents put on the brakes.

  • Years ago, back when the Food Network in USA was still good, they had a show called “Cooking Live,” where Sara Moulton would have guests on to cook with her, and take live phone call questions from the audience. And one time she had Darina Allen on. And I called in!

    See – ever since I was a kid, I’ve hated corned beef and cabbage. Something about the taste of it is just nasty and disgusting to my palate. And yet us Americans are almost force fed it every St. Patrick’s Day. But at some point in my young adult years, a rumor had reached me that corned beef is NOT something ever served in Ireland.

    So here was this great Irish cook on Sara Moulton’s show, (she was demonstrating an Irish recipe for a roasted and glazed loin of bacon) – and I called in, and they took my call on the air. And I asked whether Irish people really eat corned beef and cabbage, since it’s the only thing most Americans think IS Irish food. And she confirmed that NO, back in Ireland they do NOT eat corned beef – that the choice for a special fancy dinner would more likely be the roast loin of bacon she was demonstrating on the show!

    A-HA! I thought. I am vindicated! I will never again eat corned beef and cabbage, and whenever anyone tries to tell me “but that’s Irish food” I boldly state that NO, it is not, and I have that from the very authority on Irish cooking, Darina Allen herself!

  • Very precise descripton of Darina,her humour and her deep belief in good food. I’m a student of the 12 week course and I love every day of cooking and learning. We are in week 3 now and time is flying.