Our first official day at school is the one and only day of the 12 weeks we don’t rock up in our chef whites and the worlds-ugliest-yet-very-practical shoes. That little excitement is saved for tomorrow. Today was all about exploring this amazing 100 acre organic farm, getting to know the school a bit more and our very first cooking demonstration from Darina.
“This 12 week course is intensive, like gastronomic boot-camp” Darina
I actually couldn’t sleep last night. Partly because I was thinking about the name of this blog (salty sweet? sweet but salted? salt&sweet?… let it go Fi), partly because it was so quiet I could hardly believe it and partly because I was just so excited to be awake again for the morning and had to keep checking that I’d set my alarm. I had.
This morning we were given breakfast; a giant feast of fruits, yoghurts, mueslis, porridge, breads, cheeses and jams. Everything is made on site and mainly from things grown on the farm – it so impressive! Darina talked us through how all the dishes were made and who made them… from the butter, cheese, milk and yoghurt made daily in the dairy from their jersey cows to the four types of bread baked earlier that morning to the fruit salad made from fruit grown in their orchard and frozen berries picked in summer. Even the water comes up from their own well and tastes fresh and cold and amazing.
We spent the morning walking and exploring the farm, learning about the Ballymaloe ethos and how they have made a living from the farm for the past 45 years. Darina is infectiously passionate about seasonal eating, building relationships with local producers and quite literally getting your hands dirty:
“All good food comes from the good, rich earth”
Their giant glasshouse is super impressive. Even in winter time there are crops of kale, salad leaves and root vegetables. In the summer months it must be positively bursting. We each planted a little cutting of lettuce and staked our name to it. And even the sun came out! Although it’s definitely wellies weather; there is a lot of mud to be squelched through. We met the chickens, said hello to the cows and personally I saw for the first time what love and attention is given to the soil and the ultimate star of the show – the compost. The recipe for compost is the first one we’re given. Everything that can be is reused, fed to the chickens or sent off to become compost. “Feed the soil to feed the plants that feed you”
We had a ‘light’ (read 3 course) lunch (featuring a tasting plate of local Irish delicacies including farm fresh eggs, homemade mayonnaise and seafood from down the beach at Ballycotton) before heading into the demonstration kitchen. Then, for the rest of the afternoon Darina showed us our first set of recipes. Basically, she demonstrates and then everything she makes (which is a lot!) we then re-create in the kitchen tomorrow.
So today we saw stocks, syrups, basic soups, traditional Irish soda breads, roux, rice pudding and biscuits. We have our work cut out for us tomorrow.
“There is nothing low-fat in Ballymaloe. Low fat is the biggest con of the 21st century” Darina