This week, I became the mother of twins. Both my sourdough starter and cheese were born within hours of each other and I’m wrecked. My cheese needs lots of love and attention and must be turned at least every 24 hours or it will develop an elephant’s foot (which I’m pretty sure is some sort of terminal illness). The sourdough is a hungry little fecker, who can’t even fend for himself over the weekend. I’m already suffering from mother’s guilt having failed to tend to either of them yesterday. On Saturday, I actually walked all the way home from the school without even thinking about them, only to be hit by a massive pang of inadequacy, and strolling back up to turn my cheese and get my starter munching. I fear I may have taken on too much… Not to mention the recent addition of sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir (I’m not 100% sure what any of those are either).
One of the best (and worst) things about being at Ballymaloe is that you have so many options to take on extra classes and learn new skills. This is great, because you’re learning new skills, but it’s problematic because you have to get up really early or stay really late to do them. I got to join a brilliant class on fermentation on Monday which I loved. Penny told us all about good bacteria, and we got to bring home goodies such as a scoby (for making kombucha) and a whole jar of sauerkraut! For most of us, it was in introduction to something we knew very little about, so it was great to have it broken down. I have to admit to having owned a scoby for a good while now which I’ve never used. The most important thing I learnt on this course, was to ring my husband and tell him to take it out of the fridge before I kill it!
The highlight for me was definitely making sourdough bread with Tim (Darina’s husband). Tim is in school every morning at 6.30 lovingly assembling a batch and all students are welcome to join him at any time. Surprisingly, not many people turn up (I have a feeling the early start may have something to do with it). A self-taught bread maestro, Tim knows everything there is to know about sourdough. His starter has been on the go for at least nine years now, which is testament to how well cared for it is. I have tried to make sourdough in the past, but have never even made it past the ‘starter’ stage, so it was great to see it done and realise how straight forward (but time consuming) it can be. A starter is made up of just flour and water. When left alone, they create natural yeast, which is the rising agent in bread. You need to feed the yeast on a regular basis to keep it alive. Tim’s passion made it even more enjoyable. He began by telling us; “Making sourdough is the closest you’re going to get to magic”. How could you not get enthusiastic with that opening? He also told us about his first attempts at sourdough years ago. He made a few starters, but the one he put the most time and effort into became feral and refused to co-operate. He then dug a neglected one out of the back of the cupboard and began feeding it, and that’s the one he still uses today. He describes it as being like a stray dog that you adopt, and it’s so grateful, it remains loyal for the rest of it’s life. When you hear about a relationship like that, how could you not get enthusiastic about having your own starter. I’m really hoping mine will turn out to be more of a Fido than a Gnasher.
As for the cooking… It’s coming along. I’m very proud of having made mayonnaise, from scratch, using a hand whisk. That was the same day I creamed cake batter by hand, so I’m also working on my biceps while I’m here. I successfully cooked and carved a leg of lamb (practical and delicious), and I made a very tasty blackberry sorbet. I also did a few things I never thought I would, such as piping mayonnaise and mashed potato onto other foods. I’m still struggling a bit with herb identification, having accidentally garnished a lemon sponge with chervil (I thought it was sweet cicely), which is more suited to fish dishes. I have also developed a slight obsession with edible flowers. I think they look gorgeous on sweet and savoury dishes, and I’ve even gone so far as to buy a paintbrush to crystalise them!
Things are picking up here. I’ve noticed that we are getting far more recipes to do every day, and the techniques are getting more complicated, but I’ve definitely started to feel more comfortable in the kitchen. I think the key is to embrace the madness and you’ll be fine!