MY VISIT TO BALLYMALOE
IWAS fortunate enough a few years ago to cook with Irish celebrity chef Rachel Allen when she visited South Africa. And the cookbooks of her equally famous mother-in-law, Darina Allen, have been on my shelves for many years.
So I was thrilled, during a recent trip to Ireland, to visit Ballymaloe, the country house celebrating its 50th birthday this year.
Ballymaloe was bought in 1948 by vegetable farmer Ivan Allen, and for the next 16 years he and his wife Myrtle farmed there and raised their six children.
When the kids left the nest, Myrtle asked her husband if she could turn their dining room into a small restaurant. They put a small advert in the local newspaper inviting people to “Dine in a Historic Country House” and to call for a reservation.
They served traditional Irish food made from local produce, most of which came from the family’s farm. It turned out to be a very successful venture.
Myrtle, the 90-year-old matriarch, still lives on the farm with three generations of the family actively involved in running the farm, country house and cookery school.
The 14th century house may have grown and changed with the years but it still has the look and feel of a comfortable, not overly posh country manor.
The hotel section has 30 generously proportioned, extremely comfortable rooms, and also offers self-catering accommodation in fully equipped farm cottages.
A new addition to the farm is The Grain Store, a renovated 17th century grain barn which can be used for a multitude of functions from concerts to weddings.
The gardens at Ballymaloe are a sight to behold and would take a couple of days to explore. In a section of the beautiful herb garden, a pear tree was laden with fruit waiting to be turned into
No cook would visit Ireland without stopping at Ballymaloe. The country hotel and cookery school lived up to Jenny Kay’s expectations
delectable preserves and desserts by the chefs in the kitchen.
I was invited to join pastry chef John Robert Rydall for an earlymorning baking session. At 6.30 each morning, fresh bread and scones are baked for breakfast and chef JR, who has worked at Ballymaloe since he was 15, showed me how to make soda bread, which is served everywhere in Ireland.
The buttermilk which comes from the farm gives the bread its light texture and unique flavour.
I also helped prepare a batch of Ballymaloe’s brown bread and some feather-light buttermilk scones which I enjoyed with farm butter and home-made strawberry jam.
JR told me the jam is made with frozen strawberries. When the fruit is abundant in summer, they freeze them so they can make jam all year around. “Jam made fresh from frozen berries is much nicer than jam standing in bottles for months on end,” he said.
Rory Allen, Myrtle’s son, took me on a tour of the cookery school where I met the school founder, Darina Allen. All the kitchens were a hive of activity, with full-time students busy with their lessons for the day.
Students come from all over the world to do an intensive threemonth course and learn every aspect of farm-to-fork cooking.
They have to milk cows, learn how to make butter and cheese and harvest their own produce from the 100-acre organic farm housing an enormous greenhouse.
Students who train here are guaranteed of getting good jobs. Past students include Rachel Allen and MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers.
Ballymaloe is also famous for its Country Relish which became so popular that guests started asking to buy bottles to take home. Such was the demand that Myrtle’s daughter Yasmin opened a factory close by making the relish for local and overseas markets.
I too came home with a couple of bottles. For more information visit
www.ballymaloe.ie or www.ireland.com.
A family-run business, Ballymaloe House in Cork, Ireland, is celebrating 50 years in business.
Situated on a fully certified their mark. 100 acre organic
farm, the Ballymaloe Cookery School is world famous and has turned out
chefs that have made
Ballymaloe students benefit
from an abundance of fruit grown on the farm and and vegetables
the one acre wide glasshouses.
The bedrooms at Ballymaloe are charming, with beautiful
Darina, Rachel and Myrtle Allen from Ballymaloe.