Sharing stories with Ireland’s first lady of food
Darina Allen shares her views on cooking
by Phyllis Steinberg
It was quite a thrill for me to visit with Darina Allen, Ireland’s favorite food ambassador in County Cork, Ireland. I had the opportunity to eat dinner at Ballymaloe House, visit the family farm, gardens and the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Not that I’m that impressed with celebrity chefs. But Allen doesn’t act like a celebrity. She is as down to earth as the farm she runs in County Cork. The students in her world renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School plant, pick and prepare vegetables from her organic garden.
“That way the students can have an appreciation for the food they prepare when they actually experience the process from the ground up,” Allen said.
Allen, the author of 14 cookbooks, said that her mother-in-law, Myrtle, has been her inspiration. Myrtle Allen placed an ad in the local newspaper in May of 1964 inviting guests to dine in a country house. She opened up her home to diners and gathered fresh produce from the family garden. She bought meat reared by local farmers and fish freshly caught in the area. Then, she wrote a new menu every afternoon and served it at Ballymaloe House. The rest is history.
For more than 40 years, Ballymaloe House, has been a popular restaurant in Ireland with reservations made well in advance to dine there. The Ballymaloe House also is a charming country inn with daily breakfast included in the rate for guests. There are 33 bedrooms including courtyard rooms. Ballymaloe House is located 20 miles east of Cork City. The Ballymaloe Cookery School was founded in 1983 by Darina Allen and is operated with the help of her husband, Tim, her children and other members of the family.
Students from around the world come to the school which offers more than 30 short courses in addition to 12-week certificate courses. The school is located in the middle of the family’s 100-acre organic farm.
Allen believes that the better the ingredients you use, the better the food will taste. The farm also has cattle, pigs, ducks and chickens as well as cows for milk and cheese. Students cook with the vegetables, fruits and herbs straight from the garden as well as meat, fish and seafood sourced from the farm and nearby farmers and fisherman.
Allen also has done research on special diets. One of her 14 cookbooks, she co-authored with Rosemary Kearney. It is titled Healthy Gluten-free Eating and is for those with celiac disease. The recipes are delicious, but you don’t have to be allergic to gluten and wheat to enjoy them. Below are two tasty recipes from the Healthy Gluten-free Eating cookbook.
Breakfast Health Bars
* 1 cup rice flakes
* 7 ounces apple juice
* 1/2 cup butter
* 1/8 cup plus one tablespoon soft brown sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1/8 almonds, ground
* 1/8 cup sunflower seeds, ground
* 1/4 cup ready-to-eat dried figs, chopped
* 1/4 cup dates, chopped
* 11 by 7 inch baking pan, lined with parchment paper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the rice flakes in a bowl and pour over the apple juice. Leave to soak for at least one hour, by which time all the apple juice should be absorbed by the rice flakes.
Cream the butter, add the sugar. Beat until pale, light and fluffy. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Beat together until combined. Fold in the apple-soaked rice flakes, almonds, sunflower seeds and the chopped figs and dates.
Pour into the lined tin, smooth the surface with a palette knife and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until pale golden. Allow to cool in the tin and cut into 12.
Store in airtight container and use within a week.
Frosted Lemon Squares
* 3/4 cup butter
* 3/4 cup powdered sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup rice flower
* 1 1/2 teaspoons gluten free baking powder
* 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
For the frosting:
* Freshly grated rind and juice of one lemon
* 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
* 10 by 7 inch baking pan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, rice flour, tapioca flour, gluten-free baking powder and xanthan gum into the bowl of a food processor. Whiz together for a few seconds to mix. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared tin and bake for 25 to 35 minutes until pale golden brown.
Meanwhile mix all the ingredients for the frosting in a bowl. As soon as the biscuits are cooked, spoon a little of the frosting over the top at a time, allowing it to soak through before pouring on more. Leave to cool in the tin. Cut into squares.
Photos by Phyllis Steinberg
* For more information about Ballymaloe Cookery School, log on to www.cookingisfun.ie, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Ballymaloe House Restaurant and House Accommodation, www.ballymaloehouse.ie
* For more information on Ireland, log on to: www.discoverireland.com
By Mary Gallagher
It has been said that in the early 1980’s Irish cuisine started to change for the better. Always blessed with naturally wonderful ingredients, chefs started a revolution incorporating nouvelle cuisine, flavors and techniques of the world, and then all roads leading to a new level of ever evolving spectacular Irish fare.
As this was my first trip to Ireland, a primary gauge was the five pounds this extremely picky eater gained in less than 2 weeks without ever drinking a Guinness! Outstanding game, grass fed beef, fresh vegetables and fruits, outstanding cheese and dairy (hmmm double cream, Irish butter) and as one is always close to the sea, rivers and lakes providing pristine fish and seafood.
Féile Bia is an Irish food organization with a commitment to quality. Their program emphasizes the importance of where food comes from before it reaches the hotels, restaurants, pubs and workplaces throughout Ireland.
Féile Bia organized with the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Irish Hotels Federation and the support of the farming community in response to growing consumer concerns about the quality and origin of food offered when dining out. An issue we should all be concerned about wherever we live.
Members provide details confirming the quality and origin of the food used in their kitchens. Féile Bia participants are committed to sourcing meat, chicken and eggs from recognized Quality Assurance Schemes and gladly supply any customer requests for country of origin information.
Chefs and consumers throughout Ireland take care and pride in using products grown, raised and produced locally. One of those we visited was the Burren Smokehouse.
The Burren Smokehouse is located in the legendary County Clare town of Lisdoonvarna, on Ireland’s west coast, a family run organization started in 1989 by Peter Curtin, a local man and his Swedish wife, Birgitta. Lisdoonvarna is also home to the world’s best-known matchmaking festival that you can check out at www.matchmakerireland.com/festival. It is a picturesque and historic stop popular with tourists any time of year. The town and Burren are totally free of industrial pollution so prevalent and makes this the cleanest environment in all of Western Europe.
After researching the smoking traditions of Ireland they patented their own process. Nearby the Curtin family has owned the Roadside Tavern for about the last 100 years also the first place to serve their smoked salmon. Their belief in the finest quality food products, customer care and a great group workers ensures a continuous high standard.
We made our stop first at their Visitor Centre to watch the video showing how salmon is smoked, starting from filleting to finished product. The program is available in English, German, French and Italian and the centre has space for about 50 people. We were able to test a little wine and several varieties of smoked products with additional explanations by Birgitta. Actually we loved it all except for those of us too “chicken” to try the eel. The smoked cheese was also wonderful.
According to Irish mythology (of which there is no end) only one creature was wiser than man. This was the fabled “Salmon of Knowledge” which had fed upon the acorns of the Tree of Knowledge. It was said that whoever tasted of the salmon would inherit its wisdom and foresight.
An old man had devoted his life to capturing the prized fish. Having finally achieved his goal, he entrusted the preparation and cooking to his young apprentice, with a warning that he must not taste its flesh. But, while cooking the salmon it got very hot and blistery. The boy touched those blisters and burnt his finger. To relieve the pain, he placed his finger in his mouth thus becoming the first to taste the fish and to benefit from its magical powers.
The boy was Fionn MacCool, who later became the great warrior prince of ancient Ireland. Fionn devoted his life to the spreading of wisdom.
The Curtin’s carefully source local raw materials for the Burren Smoked salmon, trout, mackerel, eel and cheese with control quality standards and regular testing from independent laboratories and inspections by certification organizations.
In the store and online, they sell high quality locally produced crafts including leatherwork, knitwear, pottery, woodwork, jewelry, CD’s and books of local interest. There is also a full Gourmet selection of locally produced fine foods including Burren’s own specialties. Select from cheeses, jams, chocolates and a fine selection of wines to remind you of your visit to Clare. I carried home a huge slab of the smoked salmon and shared it with my neighbors and friends much to everyone’s delight.
After checking out the samples we walked perhaps 200 feet to the Curtin’s Roadside Tavern for a little “shake off the chill” libation and to mix with the locals.
Burren Smokehouse ships within Ireland and to countries all over the world with one of their biggest markets being Japan.
The Burren Smokehouse
Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0) 65 7074432
When you’re home try this simple but tasty recipe for using your Burren’s Smoked salmon.
Drimcong House Restaurant
Moycullen, Co. Galway
Warm Smoked Salmon Salad
* 8 slices smoked salmon
* Mixed lettuce leaves, shredded
For the dressing:
* 50g (2 oz) fresh spinach leaves
* 100ml (4 oz) sunflower oil
* 1½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
* ½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
* Salt and black pepper
Make equal-sized mounds of lettuce on four salad plates. Drape two smoked salmon slices over each mound. Blend to liquefy the spinach, oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper.
Warm each plate of smoked salmon in the hot oven for a minute. Pour dressing over and around the salmon mounds and serve.
Another purveyor we didn’t have time to visit but follows the natural traditions so popular throughout Ireland is Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese.
Ardrahan is a semi-soft cheese with a pungent aroma, a buttery textured honey-colored centre with a complex delicate flavor. Its washed rind grows into a golden colour, while its size and weight tend to vary slightly due to the fact that it is a hand-made product.
Made from pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, and vegetarian rennet, the 1 kg wheels are wrapped in white paper and boxed individually. Baby Ardrahans are wrapped in white paper with six per box.
Ardrahan is eaten in cubes while sipping Irish whiskey or a glass of red wine or for toasted cheese sandwiches. A well blending cheese, it is excellent for cooking.
A new milk product that I thought was particularly interesting is, Ardrahan Lullaby, and it may even help you get a good nights sleep.
Lullaby is a, whole milk drink, 100% natural that comes from cows that graze in the ancient, unspoiled pastures of North Cork. This is the first milk of the day, created in the dark, as the animal sleeps, and has naturally higher levels of melatonin.
Melatonin is a natural substance found in all our bodies. The night time hours enhance the level of natural melatonin in the milk. It helps our bodies to regulate our sleep-wake cycles allowing our body clock to switch off naturally. Frequent advise for jetlag cures is to take Melatonin.
Ardrahan Lullaby Milk is pasteurized but not homogenized. Therefore, it retains all its natural goodness so shake well as the cream will settle on the top of the bottle. When I was growing up we had cream at the top and fought over who would get it for their cereal. One of the worst aspects of my grandmothers visits was her immediate shaking of the milk bottle thus dissipating the cream.
Arahan Farmhouse Cheese, Kanturk, Co. Cork, Ireland
Tel.: +353 (29) 78099
Fax.: +353 (29) 78136
In all the bookstores and Ireland has gazillions, we saw the cooking and guide books of Georgina Campbell featured. A well-known food writer who specializes in Irish cookery, restaurants and hospitality, Georgina travels the country regularly researching the best places to eat, drink and stay throughout Ireland for both leisure and business.
She has always encouraged the development of contemporary cooking based on traditional Irish themes and using the best of local produce.
Educated at Queen’s University, Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin, she now lives in Howth, a fishing port near Dublin with her husband, who is also a writer, and their family. Most of her books are available in the states and probably everything she has ever published is on Amazon.com either new or used.
A few titles you may want to check out are:
* Good Food From Ireland (Grafton paperback) is a traditional Irish food book. Although the UK edition is out of print, an American selection from it is published by Sterling under the title Classic Irish Recipes.
* Meals For All Seasons looks at contemporary Irish cooking through the four, very different, seasons of the culinary year. (Merlin Publishing, hardback)
* Irish Country House Cooking Epicure Press, Hardback
Irish Country House Cooking
Irish Country House Cooking
* The Best of Irish Breads & Baking, Traditional, Contemporary & Festive Baking has proved particularly popular and is available in the US as well as Ireland and the UK. (Epicure Press)
And she has a new book coming out early spring 2005.
In addition to some recipes having metric measurements you may find occasionally ingredients that are unfamiliar. One that threw me for a bit was Cream flour, I finally found an explanation at www.foodireland.com/ and apparently Cream flour is plain flour without added yeast or other products. We can use it the same as any US flour.
This is the website for Bord Bia promoting Irish food and drink under the banner, Ireland – The Food Island. They have wonderful links.