Monday, 9 September 2019

Back to School Fuel

Back to school…our little dotes are busily settling back into school, some making new friends others reacquainting with special pals from last term. It can be an anxious time for both children and parents and now we hear the deeply worrying statistics that anxiety and depression among children, teens and third level students is increasing at a really alarming rate. No doubt there are many contributory factors…the internet is an easy target, ‘helicopter parenting’…is a new one on me...apparently it refers to parents who ‘hover overhead’, overseeing every aspect of a child’s life, rather than allowing them to acquire basic life skills, usually learned by trial and error.
Whatever the challenge, I am completely convinced that the food children eat is vitally important for both their physical and mental health and their ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life.
So of all our many responsibilities we have as parents and there are many, one of the most important of all is to make sure that our children eat real food. It’s an investment in their future both in health and socio-economic terms. No one is saying this is easy in the frantic world we now inhabit, but somehow it must be done.
The morning is crazy busy in most households as parents try to get themselves and kids fed, school lunches made and their kids off to a crèche and/or school all before 8.00am.
So what to do, now I am going to sound unbearably bossy, but take my advice and ditch the cereal packets. I’m a big porridge fan, otherwise oatmeal fruit muesli or granola with a banana or some fresh fruit, All can be ready from the night before…

Children from seven upwards can learn how to make each of these and be proud of their achievements.
A simple fried egg, pretty much a whole protein and a slice of brown bread will set them up for the day. Most 5 or 6 year olds can learn how to fry an egg, Yes they can...and they have the wit to know the pan is hot!

After all, I’m the oldest of 9 kids, so no ‘helicopter parenting’ in our house, everyone had their own little jobs and so we inadvertently learned life skills and were proud of what we could do and anxious to help Mum (a widow at 36).
I’m a big believer in the value of freshly squeezed orange juice to provide a shot of vitamin C and many other good things each morning to protect from winter colds and flus. Buy a small electric juicer, they’re worth every penny and once again a 7 – 8 year old can make juice, pure and delicious with no additives (save and dry the citrus peels for firelighters).
This week I’m going to concentrate on a simple pre-school (or work) breakfast.... I urge you to make or seek out good bread and I’ve become more and more convinced that it needs to be made from organic flour as research clearly shows glyphosate residues in non-organic products. Look on it as an investment in your family’s health – save on supplements and meds and build up healthy gut biomes in all the family.

We can no longer say we don’t know the danger pesticides and herbicide residues are doing to our health, the research is there…
After all glyphosate is registered as an antibiotic and is known to cross the placenta barrier. Austria became the first country to Europe to ban glyphosate in June 2019, others will follow - It’s an extremely problematic subject but back to the kitchen....
Flahavan’s, the famous seventh generation family from Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford, sell organic oat flakes but their non-organic porridge is also glyphosate free because Flahavan’s banned their growers from using glyphosate over 20 years ago. Pat and Lily Lawlor’s creamy Kilbeggan Oatmeal too is organically grown and widely available. We are also big fans of Donal Creedon’s Macroom Oatmeal with its unique toasted flavour and texture.
Flaked oatmeal porridge can be made in minutes. Pinhead oats or Macroom can easily be made the night before and re-heated in just a few minutes the following morning when you are bleary eyed and trying to wake up. I love it with a sprinkling of soft brown sugar and a drop of Jersey cow milk, but I notice that the young people nowadays enjoy porridge with all manner of toppings. Fresh or stewed fruit, compotes, peanut butter, jam, honey, nuts…the more the merrier to give them energy and vitality to power through the day.

This fruit muesli, a Ballymaloe favourite for over 70 years, changes with the seasons. Add crushed berries or grated Irish dessert apples – they are in season now... If you have an apple tree you’ll probably have a glut, don’t waste a single one, they make delicious apple juice to drink fresh, freeze or try your hand at cider, but we are wandering away from breakfast!

Kilbeggan Organic Porridge
Serves 2 -4
Mix a large cup of porridge oats with 2 cups of cold water or milk.  In a saucepan, bring slowly bring to the boil and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes stirring all the time.  Reduce cooking time if the oats are soaked overnight.   My grandchildren love porridge with peanut butter – sounds bizarre but it’s nutritious and delicious!
Variation
To further enrich your porridge, you can add your own selection of organic fresh fruits, nuts, honey, cinnamon…

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge
Serves 4
Virtually every morning in winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

155g (5 1/2ozs) Macroom oatmeal
1.2 litres (2 pints) water
1 level teaspoon salt
Obligatory accompaniment!
Soft brown sugar

Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.
Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.
Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day. Add more water if necessary.
Note
If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli
Serves 8

This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – it's such a good recipe to know about because its made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Ergemont Russet in the Autumn.

6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)
8 tablespoons water
250g (8oz) fresh strawberries
2-4 teaspoons honey
Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes.  Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal.  Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.
Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.

Granola
Granola is a toasted breakfast cereal, it’s super easy to make in a large batch and will keep fresh for several weeks in a Kilner jar. You can add all types of dried fruit and nuts to the basic recipe and top it with all manner of good things to make it even more nutritious and energy boosting.
Serves 20

12oz (350g) honey or golden syrup
8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower
1lb 1oz (470g) oat flakes
7oz (200g) barley flakes
7oz (200g) wheat flakes
3 1/2oz (100g) rye flakes
5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas
5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
2 3/4oz (70g/1 cup) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2oz (50g) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too
toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don't burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!
Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.
Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Climate Change: What's Good to Eat?

I’m increasingly dismayed by the often ill-informed and self-righteous debate on climate change. For many "Stop eating meat" is considered to be the solution to all our planetary and climate change ills. Farmers of all persuasions are being ‘tarred with the same brush’ and vilified. . .

Some farming methods certainly need to be reviewed and there is a growing consensus that business as usual is no longer an option particularly for very intensive pig and poultry units which despite economies of scale rarely even yield a decent income for the farmers themselves, many of whom feel trapped in the system, fuelled by our assumption that cheap food at any cost is our right!

If you ask most young people what we should eat to be sustainable and healthy, their immediate and well intentioned response will be,  Go vegan or vegetarian. They are convinced by the argument that meat, particularly red meat is bad for us and damaging to the environment. However, there is a world of difference, both in health terms and in environmental terms in meat from pasture reared livestock and intensively reared animals from feedlot systems. Cattle are crucially important to a sustainable agricultural system; it is worth noting that worldwide, approx. 80% of the land that cattle graze on cannot be used for tillage or other forms of agriculture.


It is also important to understand that cattle, other animals and poultry build soil fertility. A crucially important factor at a time when the UN warns us that there are less than 60 harvests left in many intensively farmed soils.

In Ireland we are favoured by nature, with optimum conditions to produce superb food. Many farmers desperately want to be a part of the solution to global warming. They urgently need wise advice, training and support to embark on regenerative agriculture that encourages continual innovation and improvement of environmental, social and economic measures. The primary priority in regenerative organic agriculture is soil health. Vitally important when one realises that our health comes directly from the soil.


For optimum health enjoy a little of all the bounty of nature. . .  Eat vegetables, herbs and foraged foods in season and seek out humanely reared meat with a nice covering of juicy fat so important for our health, include some beautiful wild fish when you can get it fresh, an increasingly difficult challenge.

This week, let’s show support for our farmers who work 24/7 to produce nourishing meat for us to enjoy. Buy from your local butcher preferably one with their own abattoir who knows the source of the meat and buys directly from local farmers or the local mart. Let’s eat a little less but seek out pasture raised meat, from native breeds.

If you are confused about what to eat for optimum health start by cutting all processed and fake food out of your diet, just eat real food in season. . . One could do worse than listen to the sage advice of the Weston A. Price foundation www.westonaprice.org and wise tradition podcasts https://www.westonaprice.org/podcast/ - Some are literally life changing.

The reality is, nutrient dense sustainable food can be more expensive to produce. As tax payers we all contribute to a farm support system.

Our taxes help to fund the health service, clean up the environment. . .  I strongly believe that politicians urgently need to be courageous and  move the support to more sustainable forms of food production which I believe will help to reduce climate change and benefit our health, a win, win situation all the way.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Kids Love to Cook

Kids just love to cook and learn about how their food is grown and produced. We coordinated a few Summer Camps and Kids Farm Walks here on the farm over the past few weeks, such excitement…

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 The children got fully immersed in the activities of the organic farm. They ran off to collect the freshly laid eggs from the nests in the hen house, and jostled each other to feed the Jersey calves. They loved watching the free range Duroc/Tamworth pigs snuffling in the ground for roots and grubs to keep them healthy - squeals of joy as the pigs ran over the fence. They fed them the end of a crop of spinach and some sweetcorn that had bolted in the green houses.

Image may contain: fruit, plant, food and outdoor
They also loved sowing seeds and harvesting the produce. In the herb garden, they smelled and tasted fresh herbs, rubbed mint, lemon balm and lemon verbena between their fingers, tasted them and guessed what the flavours would be good with. They giggled and marvelled at the sharp lemony flavour of buckler leaf sorrel and learned how to pick tomatoes with the calyx still on. Ate green beans off the plant, picked cobs of sweetcorn and ripe berries from the strawberry patch. Each of these activities plus listening to the bird song and watching bees collecting nectar from the flowers are a beautiful educational activity.
One of the highlights was watching Maria our ‘dairy queen’ milking the cows in our micro dairy. They saw the milk being separated and then each got a jar of cream to make into butter. They shook the jam jars as they danced to the sound of disco music and hey presto – butter to spread on the scones they made in the kitchen.

They discovered  that many weeds are edible and full of mighty minerals and vitamins and magic trace elements to keep them bouncing with energy. They raced into the blueberries cage to pick the juicy fruit to pop into drop scones.
They made their pizza dough and tomato sauce and let it rise while they collected fallen timber to light a camp fire.

On the last day they set up a Kids Café in the garden so parents could join them to enjoy the delicious food from their mornings cooking in the kitchen, and how they love cooking! It’s astonishing what even quite small children can learn how to do. They can make pasta, bake bread, jam, salads, sauces, both sweet and savoury dishes, juice fruit for homemade lemonade, make popsicles, and feed the scraps left over from their cooking to the grateful hens before they headed home with a little goodie bag of their very own homemade food. Teaching kids how to cook is giving them a gift for life – equipping them with the practical skills to feed themselves healthy wholesome food and they love it!

Monday, 22 July 2019

Food Adventures in Andalucia

I’m in Spain, just an hour north west of Seville and I’ve just had the most (for me) idyllic morning wandering in a remote part of Andalucia through oak woods where the black legged Iberian pigs snuffle to find the acorns that make the famous Jamon de bellotta (cured ham) from this area so  sweet and exquisite. But today I’m picking wild plums directly from the trees, there are two types, yellow mirabelles and small wine coloured fruit that look like fat cherries, sweeter and not as tart as damsons but a similar size. Sadly the wild figs and pomegranate aren’t quite ripe yet but the green walnuts are just at the perfect stage for pickling.

We’re staying at Finca Buenvino near Aracena, a pink washed, guest house, covered in wisteria and vines, virtually hidden amongst the chestnut and cork oak trees on a hilltop in the heart of the Sierra de Aracena.
Sam Chesterton and his Scottish wife Jeannie came to Spain in the early seventies in search of an old ruin to convert but eventually decided to build on this beautiful site close to a spring of clear water, an immensely important factor in Spain.


Much of the building material was old and traditional, local brick, terracotta tiles, metal grills, high arched doors, a panelled dining room, an intriguing mix of Scottish country house and Spanish villa with a relaxed country house feel.
Finca Buenvina has just five bedrooms, the house can be taken as a unit complete with cook and cleaner or one can just stay on as a guest and be pampered. There’s also the option of several lovely self catering cottages in the woods complete with pool.  It’s quite the find for those who are seeking an alternative to Costa del Sol. Sam and Jeannie are the most genial of hosts. Jeannie cooks the kind of food that I love to eat and now their son Charlie has joined Jeannie in the kitchen.

The food scraps from the kitchen get fed to the happy hens who scratch around under the trees so beautiful eggs for the many Spanish egg dishes. Tapas before dinner were some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere – quail egg with morcilla, Pimenton de Padron, tortillitas.…
A little shaded corner to curl up with a book or just snooze for a siesta in the afternoon and yet another memorable dinner on a terrace as the sun sets with the swifts swooping and whistling overhead.

Sam and Jeannie offer regular cooking classes and one can book now to partake in the traditional metanza early in the New Year, the next one is scheduled for around the first week in February 2020. A fascinating experience where one can learn how to butcher and preserve every scrap of the free range black pigs from the snout to the tail. Learn how to cure jamon in sea salt, (Kg for every kilo of ham) and how to make a variety of chorizo and salchichon, morcilla, zarappa, chistora and a myriad of other porky treats. At the end there’s a party with a huge cauldron of guiso de cerdo, a pork stew, serve with lots of beer and red wine and much merriment.
Wannabe writers can join a Writers Retreat – details for all of these options are on their website. They even have their own cookbook - The Buenvino Cookbook – Recipes from our farmhouse in Spain.
Other places to eat in the area:
D’Caprichio in Los Marinos
Jesus Carrion Restaurante in Aracena
Visit Cinco Jotas in Jabujo for a tour of the Jamon curing rooms to taste the very best Jamon that Spain has to offer - understand why Pata Negra is so revered around the world.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Honey & Smoke


Honey & Co chefs, husband and wife team, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, are sitting contentedly at our kitchen table podding peas and broad beans for supper. 

They’ve spent the afternoon prepping for their guest chef course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  They live in Central London, run two mega successful and much loved restaurants and a deli called Honey & Smoke in Fitzrovia.

Each is jam packed with guests who absolutely love their homey Middle Eastern food. There’s something particularly welcoming, warm and comforting about Sarit and Itamar’s places and it’s the kind of food we love to eat, who isn’t addicted to scooping up dollops of hummus or baba ganoush on ashtanur flat bread or pitta. 
They both love cooking and have since they were five. They originally met in the kitchen of a posh Italian Restaurant in Israel but decided to emigrate to London, where they worked in the Orrery, it’s worth knowing that Sarit was pastry chef for Ottolenghi and executive head chef at Nopi, both sensational restaurants.
This is their third guest chef appearance at the Ballymaloe Cookery School (read about their 2015 visit here). They love coming to Ireland and their idea of heaven is being able to wander through the farm and gardens, pick the leaves and petals for the salad, dig potatoes, snip off the blossoms from the zucchini, licking their lips at the thought of how they will prepare them.  Real cooks are endlessly excited by beautiful produce and exciting new flavours.  
They have searched the highways and byways of the Middle East for the best spices, sumac, za’atar and best street food.  Their enthusiasm is infectious, even strangers sometimes share recipes with them – they endlessly try to recreate the flavours of their childhood and home country.  Honey & Spice is like a tiny Aladdin’s Cave with shelves packed with the best Middle Eastern ingredients, which I’ve discovered I can now order online to recreate their recipes from their three books.

Image result for Honey & Co At HomeHoney & Co, Honey & Co The Baking Book and the recently published Honey & Co At Home, which has already become many of their devotees favourite.  
The format of Honey & Co At Home is different to the two previous books and includes recipes, For Us Two, For Friends, For the Weekend, For a Crowd…at the end of the book there’s an excellent section entitled For the Kitchen, a sort of store cupboard section of spice mixes, pickles, relishes & sauces.  The book is worth the price for this one chapter alone. Their harissa, ras el hanout and tahini has certainly added zing to my dishes, I also love the pithy and the self-deprecating writing.
It’s also worth checking out the Honey & Co podcast The Food Talks available on iTunes and Spotify to download and several segments on YouTube where they are cooking favourite dishes in their inimitable way.
25 Warren St., Fitzrovia, London, W1T 5LZ Tel: + 44 2073886175
Honey & Spice
52 Warren St., Kings Cross, London W1T 5NJ Tel: + 44 2073886175
Honey & Smoke
216 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QW Tel: + 44 2073886175

Monday, 24 June 2019

Coombeshead Farm - a farm to fork guest house

A few weeks ago we flew from Cork Airport to Bristol, hired a car and headed for Devon and Cornwall. I’d forgotten how beautiful the English countryside can be, the abundance of wildflowers in the hedgerows and so many beautiful mature trees.  One can’t but draw comparison to our Irish countryside, so often denuded of hedgerows and with so few mature trees.  Of course it depends on the area in both countries but I’m becoming ever more alarmed at the wanton disregard for the environment.
We had booked a few nights stay at Coombeshead Farm near Lewannick in Cornwall, a ‘farm to fork’, guest house with just five bedrooms owned by chefs Tom Adams and his partner April Bloomfield. 
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Image: https://www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk/gallery
We arrived tired and hungry and felt instantly at home. The bedrooms are small by most hotel standards but charmingly decorated with a homemade soap made from the lard of their own pigs, a little decanter of mint vodka to sip and two pieces of homemade toffee to share or argue over. The house is surrounded by organic gardens in a working farm with vegetable and herb gardens and a flock of heritage chickens.
The farmhouse is in the midst of 66 acres of woodlands and meadows grazed by sheep, there are beehives and a wood burning oven and a fire pit. Curly haired Mangalitsa pigs romping and rooting around the fields underneath the oak spinney behind the house. The bread is made in the ‘state of the art’ bakery in the barn by Ben Glazer, beautiful dark crusty loaves of natural sour dough that also make their way to some of the top restaurants in London.
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Image: https://www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk/gallery

The food is super delicious, we stayed for three nights and looked forward to each and every meal with eager anticipation. The atmosphere feels like a house party, comfy sofas, crackling fires - guests tend to congregate in the kitchen around the stove. 
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Image: https://www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk/gallery
Breakfast each day was a simple feast, dark crusty sourdough bread with homemade Guernsey butter, compote of seasonal fruit - rhubarb, apple, gooseberry with elderflower, raw honey, homemade jams, granola, bircher muesli, gut boosting water kefir, kombucha and gorgeous unctuous yoghurt. A most fantastic slab of fine home cured streaky bacon and homemade sausages from the happy rare breed Mangalitsa pigs with a soft flowing scramble of their own eggs.
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Image: https://www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk/gallery
Lots of pickling, fermenting, curing and preserving. Small plates of creative, flavourful real food. No silly foams, gels or skid marks on plates.
Here these young people are really ‘walking the walk’, not just ‘talking the talk’ as so many places do, skilled, accomplished earthy organic food, locally sourced and seasonal.
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Image: https://www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk/gallery
The menus sang of the season and the produce picked at its peak from the vegetable garden and hedgerows - zero miles food. I’m licking my lips remembering some of the flavours still so vibrantly fresh in my mind: Country loaf and Guernsey butter, new season's asparagus wrapped in crispy filo parcel, garlic scapes and Jack of the Hedge, pickled ramson and cabbage terrine, curds and nettle, Mangalitsa loin and turnip, hazelnut tart with fresh cream… you’ll just have to go there yourself to experience the magic!



Monday, 17 June 2019

Gooseberries – The Forgotten Fruit

This evening we had compote of gooseberries with elderflower after supper with a few friends, a simple dessert, just stewed gooseberries really but it blew everyone away. Most of our friends hadn’t tasted gooseberries for years – they had virtually forgotten about them. 



The intense flavour sent them into a spin of nostalgia many called them Goosegogs when they were children. They reminisced about the gooseberry bushes in Granny’s garden, picking gooseberries from the prickly bushes, top and tailing them around the kitchen table for gooseberry jam, and the dire warnings not to eat them before they were ripe or “you’d get a pain where you never had a window”.

Wonderful how a flavour brings memories flooding back, one mouthful and I was back in our little vegetable garden in Cullohill, picking tart green berries into an enamel bowl, so hard they sounded like stones against the side of the bowl.


Gooseberries are ripening in the Ornamental Fruit Garden - Ballymaloe Cookery School

Mummy usually made red gooseberry jam from the riper fruit, but years later I discovered the magic of green gooseberry and elderflower jam from Jane Grigson’s Good Things cookbook published in 1971.
She also introduced me to the magical combination of green gooseberry and elderflower. Ever since, as soon as I see elderflower blossoms in the hedgerows, I know it’s time to dash down the garden to rummage through the prickly branches of the gooseberry bushes to pick the hard, green, bitter, marble-sized berries.
It’s difficult to imagine that they are ready to eat but believe me they make the best jams and compotes at this stage and also freeze brilliantly.
If you don’t have a gooseberry bush in your garden, dash out and buy at least one now, better still three, at least one should be Careless, Invicta is another delicious variety which is somewhat resistant to mildew.
Unless you live close to a good Country or Farmers Market you are not likely to find fresh gooseberries. Unlike strawberries and raspberries which are available ad nauseam all year round, fresh gooseberries are rarely to be found on a supermarket shelf.
We grow several varieties of gooseberries; some in bush form. We train others as cordons or in a fan shape along a wall. The latter are a brilliant discovery, so much easier to pick. Gooseberries are deciduous and the fruit is high in Vitamin C.
Only today, I discovered the origin of the word gooseberry or spíonán in Irish, apparently they were so named because they were used to make a sauce for roast goose to cut the richness – Can you imagine how delicious that combination would be?

Monday, 10 June 2019

Ruffage


An exciting parcel arrived on my desk today, a present from a past student who wanted me to have a copy of her very first cook book – Abra Berens is the 28th Ballymaloe Cookery School student to write a best-selling cook book. It’s called Ruffage, published by Chronicle Books and has just been chosen by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2019 – and that’s no mean feat….
Abra did a 12 Week Certificate Course here in 2006. She’s chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan and a co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm. She’s making quite the impact and strives to connect people with their food both through dinners and progressive food policy, helping to further a food policy where farmers earn a living wage, protect our environment through agriculture and waste as little food as possible...no doubt influenced by the zero waste policy we do our best to espouse here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

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A year and half after she left here she took up residence in a forest valley between two cherry orchards on Bare Knuckle Farm in Michigan. She plunged all her savings into the project, worked from dawn till dusk, ate brilliantly but by the end of the first year was so ‘poor and cold’ that she decided to return to Chicago to get a job that paid “in green backs” rather than green leafy vegetables. There was lots of delicious food at the pie shop where she worked but soon she was craving the carrots that seemed to get sweeter with every passing frost, the tiny kale greens that still sprouted from the stalk and the almost obscenely orange-yolked eggs. “Farming changed the way I cook”.

ruffage
I too, know that feeling, when you sow and tend a seed and wait patiently for it to grow into something to eat you will cook it carefully and lovingly and use every single scrap. You will want everyone to know that you grew it...Furthermore, it gives one a far greater respect and appreciation for those who grow nourishing and wholesome food all for us.
The format of Ruffage is also interesting. It’s not a vegetarian book but Abra has chosen vegetables as the principle ingredient and gives deeply knowledgable advise on how to select, store, prepare, cook and serve them using a variety of cooking techniques. She starts with a pantry section and some essential condiments.  There are recipes for each vegetable and suggestions for 3 or 4 delicious variations, and many, many cooking methods, pan roasting, poaching, boiling, sautéing, grilling, oven roasting, braising, confit, frying, stuffed, marinated, baked, caramelized and of course raw.
ruffage
Who knew, that there so many super exciting ways to serve vegetables, I love this book and plan to stock it in our Farm shop here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. We don’t have much space so I’m super fussy about what I ask Toby to stock but this is a ‘keeper’.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Claire Ptak - Royal Wedding Baker Teaches at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Claire Ptak - baker to the Royals, as one of our current 12 Week students put it, shared her magic with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School recently. Claire, who loves to bake, started her career at Chez Panisse in Berkley in California, baking delicious, simple pastries, cookies and galettes with beautiful ingredients. Beautiful butter, beautiful fresh eggs, beautiful, seasonal fresh currants, cherries and  organic flowers and herbs to embellish the cakes.

Image: @violetcakeslondon

In 2005, she moved to London and set up a stall in Broadway Market in Hackney selling cupcakes. There was a queue from the very first day for Claire’s beautiful but sometimes not picture perfect looking creations.
Somehow, people’s gut feeling told them that this was real and much more likely to taste delicious than the perfect looking fondant iced confections so prevalent nowadays.
Image: www.instagram.com/violetcakeslondon

Violet Café and Bakery was started and word spread fast. Both royalty and celebrities snuck in or sent along quietly for a goodie box of Claire’s treats from Violet Café. Claire never divulged their names or very personal cravings.
Her style is Anglo-American – her scones are long triangles with sugar tops and many delicious additions peach, raspberry, white chocolate...
Her buttery ‘biscuits’ which we would call scones are made with lots of sour cream and occasionally butter, are split in half and sold as breakfast ‘biscuits’ with bacon, egg and hot sauce inside.
Among the celebrities we now know who were her fans, was a fellow American girl with style, called Meghan Markle which led to Claire being asked to make ‘the wedding cake’ for Harry and Meghan’s wedding. When the story broke, Claire was suddenly catapulted onto the international stage – her Instagram followers went from 69,000 to 205,000 in a few days.
Image: @violetcakeslondon

There are now plans to open a second Violet Café next year and all because of cake….
Claire is passionate about the importance of using quality ingredients for baking delicious cakes, breads and pastries. She told us about a fast emerging trend for ‘seasonal cakes’. The wedding cake was an Amalfi lemon and elderflower perfumed cake because the wedding was in the midst of the elderflower season in May.
Claire and her daughter Frances at Ballymaloe Cookery School - Image: @violetcakeslondon

I love the idea of cakes reflecting the seasons, so easy as we come into the summer with an abundance of summer fruit, berries and currants around the corner. Claire also used lots of spelt, sorghum, kamut, rice and rye, khorasan flour and soft cane sugars for her cakes and has many gluten free and accidentally vegan confections – something for everyone to enjoy.