Monday, 13 July 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream

It's become a bit of a tradition at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for the students to do a fundraiser during the term to support the East Cork Slow Food Education Project and the Darina Allen India Fund. We've had all kinds of events including a sponsored foraging walk over the cliffs at Ballycotton, and a pub quiz in the Blackbird. In recent times, a Pop Up dinner in the Garden Cafe at the Cookery School has been the most popular choice.

The students on this summer's 12 week course also chose to do a Pop Up dinner. Their theme was A Midsummer Night's Feast and they soon drew up exciting and elaborate plans, dividing the work between them.

For the past few weeks they have been researching, planning and testing with youthful enthusiasm and terrific gusto. They read Shakespeare's classic play, A Midsummer Night's Dream several times over - and Prateek from Mumbai read passages from the play at intervals during the meal in his charmingly dramatic way.

They planned the menu - incorporating as many fresh local foods as they could and seasonal produce from the farm, gardens and greenhouse. The succulent lamb for the main course came  from Frank Murphy. They even picked the organic rose petals from the water garden and dried them for the spectacular dessert.

On Saturday and all of Sunday they worked with military precision. The teams were cooking all day having loads of fun. The bread makers, John P, Carolin & Laura started at 5.30 am on Sunday and made four lovely breads.

Which were served with Jersey butter freshly made in our dairy by Sinead.

The design team of Jack, Diana, Clemmy, Alice, Olivia, Molly, Denise, Ashley, Lesley and Grainne chose to transform the dining room in to a midsummer forest scene and went off foraging round the gardens to find all sorts of summer foliage and blossoms.

They hung beech leaves and wild clematis from the rafters and Diana did a paper installation that looked like fluttering birds over the doorway. 

Three long tables were laid with starched white linen table cloths. They had banana leaves down the centre as a runner topped with mossy logs wound round with the creamy white fragrant blossoms of philadelphus - mock orange - which scented the air so beautifully. 

Sarah Simpson & Lisa McClure planned cocktails - a Strawberry and Mint Cocktail and a Passion Fruit and Mango Non-Alcoholic Cocktail. They made a beautiful ice bowl full of roses to hold the ice. 

A little drinks station was set up in the conservatory to welcome the guests who started to arrive just after 6pm. Candles and twinkling night lights were lit and Shawnie played the piano and serenaded the glamorous guests as they arrived. Anna from Sweden, where midsummer night is a traditional celebration, had shown some other students how to make little herb and flower wreaths for the waitress's hair.

The delicious canapes created by Alison, Susie, Grainne, Ashley and Aru set the scene: Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese and Cucumber; Indian Spiced Potato Cakes with Mint and Yoghurt Raita and Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Tamari Dipping Sauce  got an overwhelmingly positive response...

There were gasps of admiration as the guests saw the transformation of the Cafe. Once everyone was seated we welcomed the guests and told them about the East Cork Slow Food project, and then Prateek read the first beautiful passage from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Then the meal began. 

The beautiful summer starter created by Aoife and Florence incorporated beetroot in three ways: Chilled Beetroot Soup, Beetroot Carpaccio and Beetroot Jelly and Sour Cream.

The main course was the culmination of much thought and experimentation by David, Justin, Paul Mahon & Vicky. Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Carrot Puree, Mashed Potato and an Apple and Mint Gel. It was much enjoyed, I've rarely seen so many plates with not a morsel left behind...

The dessert course was created by Poppy & Carly: Feta and Honey Cheesecake, Raspberry Spuma, Chocolate Soil and Meringue Shards... it drew appreciative gasps of admiration from every table.

All the students had been invited to enter a competition for the best midsummer night dream confection - it had to have some kind of flower connection - meringue lollipops, chocolate bark, rose petal cake and cupcakes there was scarcely a rose left in the garden after the event!

Pam and I had the challenge of trying to judge, we just couldn't do it - so we gave a prize to each of the seven entrants.

The whole event was masterminded by Eva Melican who did a terrific job with great tenacity and admirable good humour. Also part of the ace team and supporting cast were Pam, Rod and Tom.

Many thanks to two of our senior tutors, Pam and Tracy, who supported the students for this event. Pam was Maitre d' and Tracy oversaw the kitchen - but they were both anxious to emphasise that the students had lead the planning and cooking themselves.

Some of these students had done a little cooking before they came to the school, a few having worked in professional kitchens. But many had scarcely made toast before they joined us 10 weeks ago - so we were bursting with pride at what they had achieved, a view shared by the guests. They created a truly magical and memorable evening, a huge thank you to all involved.


  1. How lovely! Congrats to all the students. Looking forward to my visit in September.

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