Ballymaloe – Week 2: The Curse of the Hot Oven

This week I have learnt the following…

  1. It’s surprisingly easy to make butter
  2. Filleting a fish is much grosser than jointing a chicken
  3. Pop up restaurants do not just “pop up”
  4. I really enjoy using a piping bag and manipulating caramel (who would’ve thought?)
  5. You can’t trust anyone not to tamper with your oven
  6. My collection of pottery and delph is totally inadequate

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Above, you have some pictures of spun caramel from Ballymaloe… I was responsible for the one on the bottom left and middle right. I was proud of myself until two minutes ago, when I googled ‘sugar art’. I guess I still have a bit of a way to go…

It’s been another whirlwind week here at Ballymaloe. It seems as though everyone is destined to have a disaster of a day and I am just waiting for mine to hit. It’s becoming far more common to see someone crying silent, angry, roux-based tears or rocking quietly in a corner. There have been plenty of stitches and vatloads of burn gel, and the idea that we have an exam about everything in weeks 6, 11 and 12 is hitting home. That’s not to say that people aren’t in good form. They are! Most people are still focused and determined and sharing tips and ideas as they stroll the corridors, they are just carrying slightly more weight on their shoulders.

This week I learnt some skills that will be invaluable to me in the future (both in normal life and, hopefully, running a food business). “Forgotten Skills” (ironically, the name of one of Darina’s books) such as cheese-making, lamb jointing and fish filleting were demonstrated to us in a straight-forward manner. The school has a great way of telling us the tradition of a foodstuff, and going back to basics, but also giving us suggestions for more contemporary ways to use old-fashioned products in the kitchen. My favourite example was in butter-making. We are taught how to make butter from jersey cream, and every day a student is responsible for churning it for lunch. We do it in the traditional way using butter paddles and iced water and it’s salty, yellowy goodness is delicious. One way to adapt this is the modern trend towards fermented butter. This is where cream and buttermilk sit together overnight and are then churned into a sourer butter that lasts longer. Apparently it’s all the rage in the cool joints these days, but without the traditional knowledge of homemade butter, it wouldn’t be around.


What you can get from just half an organic chicken. I used the wishbone to wish for more chicken.

Half a chicken

I once heard Rachel Allen on the radio saying she could get 6 days out of a chicken. Now I know how.

I did plenty more cooking this week and am definitely becoming a little more comfortable with pastry… Although I did have one disaster involving lemon meringue pie. I’m pretty sure they set that dish to trip us up. I was familiar with how fickle pastry could be, but curd and meringue were snuck in there as hidden traps. By lemon meringue day, I was determined to ace pastry, so padded off to the cool part of the kitchen to roll it out on my chilled marble slab (as you do). It had a lovely crumbly yet smooth texture and I rolled it out nice and thin to fit three small tartlet tins. It chilled out for a bit while I concocted a nice, stiff, uncurdled curd, and then it went into the oven. Unbeknownst to me, someone was out to sabotage it. I came along four minutes after brushing on my egg wash and they were burnt to a frazzle. Someone had lashed my cool oven right up to 240°C and there was no going back. From that point on, there was only so much patching up my curd and meringue could do. Although that was a minor disaster, my tomato juice was a triumph. Perfect seasoning, a nice kick and a lovely red colour. It may not be the most exciting of dishes, but I’ll take the compliments! It got me 9 marks out of 10, so I may make it into a Bloody Mary next time for top marks.

tomato juice

Tomato juice with an elegant sprig of basil

lemon meringue tartlet

My rather bronzed lemon meringue tartlet

The other news on everyone’s lips this week is the pop-up dinner. On the 21st November (put the date in your diaries), anyone on the course who is interested will be involved in organising and throwing a pop-up restaurant in the cookery school. There will one teacher supervising, but otherwise it’s all down to us. We will be planning, decorating, providing entertainment, waitressing and cooking! It’s up to us to pick the theme, organise leadership and carry the whole thing out. The main ideas floating around have been to do with using game and foraging, and people have some brilliant, creative ideas. Tomorrow evening is the first meeting to see what we’ll be up to, and I can’t wait to see where it all goes! It’s such a great opportunity for us to run something that’s all ours, and should be good practice for the industry later on.

Final word before I go… I am still in love with the farm here. Every morning I get to walk up through the orchard to the school and occasionally pluck an apple from the tree on my way. I have been on salad and vegetable duty three times already and love it. You have to be in school at 7.30 to go and get ingredients, but although it’s an early start, it beats commuting in rush hour traffic or on a crowded train. We get to frollick through beautifully scented greenhouses, plucking tomatoes from bushes and pulling up heads of lettuce. I’m learning loads about different varieties of plants and herbs and am far more aware of where everything comes from. Experiencing this side of the farm definitely makes me think about what I buy, and when I see the effort and love that goes into growing every carrot or leaf of kale, I don’t want to see any of it going in the bin.

I’ve also been trying pretty hard to get on with the farm staff and pick their brains as much as possible, but think I may have ruined my chances. My first mistake was mixing up sweet cicely and parsley. The second one was when bringing some vegetables in from the van. I turned to the head gardener and asked politely “Where should I bring these potatoes?”. “Louder” he responded. So I upped it a notch and blared out “Where should I bring these potatoes?”. He looked at me like I had two heads and said “Larder”. “Ahhhh…” I thought. “He said ‘larder’ the first time.” I tried to explain the misunderstanding, digging myself a deeper hole, before scuttling off to the larder to mop up my tears of embarrassment with some sprigs of parsley…


The Ballymaloe stand at Midleton market

Midleton market

Midleton market


Ottolenghi’s roasted aubergine and saffron salad. I LOVE Ottolenghi, so was happy out preparing this salad

one morning's menu

All in a morning’s work… Cheese biscuits, caramel sauce, creme caramel, poppadums and aubergine salad

Eve decanter

Eve decanter from Riedel. It double decants wine. This is one of only two in Ireland




Srikhand. Delicious dessert with labneh, sugar, cardamom and pistachios



labneh with anchovies and chilli

labneh with anchovies and chilli



The bread table for lunch

The bread table for lunch


Haddock before filleting… You can recognise haddock by the black “thumbprint” behind its gills.

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