Saturday, 7 May 2022

Ballymaloe May Fair

We've all missed in-person events over the last two years. We're delighted to announce the Ballymaloe May Fair! 

Lá Bealtaine (May Day) is one of Ireland’s most important and ancient festivals and celebrates the beginning of summer. Traditionally a festival for optimism and renewal, Lá Bealtaine was a time filled with feasts and flowers. 


The Ballymaloe May Fair is a celebration of this ancient heritage… but with a few modern twists! 
Our newest festival is an ode to all things good food, gardening, green-living, home, health, fashion and summer fun.




There will be cookery demonstrations from myself, Paul Flynn, Rory O'Connell, Arun Kapil and more, walks and talks, walled garden fitness classes, workshops for all ages - fancy making soap, or beeswax candles or macrame? - a Writer's Corner, a cocktail class and wine tasting, great shopping and so much more. Don't miss a walk around the sculpture exhibition with Ritchie Scott as he discusses the art and the work that goes into putting the exhibition together.



The May Fair is our most colourful festival yet! It is an interactive event centred on sharing a wealth of talent and knowledge from all around the country. The festival will be one of innovation and collaboration, celebrating a fusion of exciting lifestyle experiences. Ireland’s finest gardeners, food experts, craft- makers and artists will come together to showcase their produce, skills and share their expertise.


May 20th, 21st and 22nd 2022
Friday 5pm to 10pm 
Saturday 10am 'til late 
Sunday 10am to 5pm.

Free entry for children under 12. 
Drop your kids off for an hour of fun at our Children's Activity Area on Saturday and Sunday. 

Dogs on leads are very welcome.






Monday, 2 May 2022

Auntie Florence

My Auntie Florence was quite the character, tiny in stature but a huge presence. We used to call her Mrs. Tiggywinkle after the famous character in Beatrix Potter’s tales in the Lake District.

In her later years she seems to have shrunk in stature but certainly not in personality.


When she passed away recently at the age of 88, tributes poured in from all over the world from people whose paths had crossed with her in life and particularly from the students for whom she was a familiar presence at the Cookery School.

Numerous mentions of ‘a warm welcome from this colourful character’, ‘always ready to party’, ‘always up to mischief with a glint in her eye’. ‘A much-loved social butterfly’.


Always beautifully dressed in her imitable quirky style, she loved bright colours - pink, orange, rose, colourful beads, stripy socks, jaunty scarves, sun hats in summer, furry hats in winter, she even had a pink one…

All her life she had a passion for horses and the races - even in her last days, a mention of Cheltenham brought a smile to her face.

Her interests were wide and varied – she loved to entertain, play bridge, the archaeological society, the Georgian society, watching the stormy seas…

She travelled all over the world rekindling treasured friendships, making new friends everywhere she went and always genuinely interested in people. She had an uncanny way, particularly in later life, of managing to get people to do things for her. In one of the many memorable messages on Instagram, a past student wrote she even ‘had him and his friend washing her Yaris outside the school on the last day of exams’! My response was ‘Just as well I didn’t catch her’!

Auntie Florence will be remembered for many things, but we’ll also remember her through her recipes, she loved to cook. Auntie Florence’s orange cake is the stuff of legends - it was chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the European Parliament and is a favourite birthday cake for many. 



I can still see her standing by the Aga, flipping her famous crumpets, the standby treat for any unexpected guests. She even made the occasional loaf of soda bread up to a few weeks before she passed away.

Back in the 1950’s, before electricity had arrived in the village of Cullohill in County Laois where I was born, she would peddle her little bike all the way from Johnstown (8 miles) with a brick of HB Ice-cream carefully wrapped in layers of newspaper and a pack of wafers. You can’t imagine the joy and excitement when we saw her coming over the hill. Later we’d made raspberry buns from ‘All in the Cooking’ together at the kitchen table, a perfect first cooking lesson for a child eager to cook. There are so many memories connected to food.

I remember helping to clean the wild field mushrooms we collected together and then watching her stewing them in milk on the old ESSE cooker – I can still taste the flavour….

Another random thought - she loved lambs’ kidneys and would sidle up to the students during butchery class here at the school and say, ‘I’ll have those please’! She loved them dipped simply in seasoned flour, seasoned with salt, a few blobs of butter, a little water and cooked in the oven between two Pyrex plates. Try it – delicious!

And of course broth, Auntie Florence loved broth and certainly knew the value of it, she made a few attempts to die in recent years but each time, we brought her back from ‘near dead’ with organic chicken broth. Sadly it didn’t work this time, but, when we see the stock pots bubbling, they will always remind us of Auntie Florence

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Food and Hope for Ukraine

Not sure about you but I can scarcely enjoy a meal without feeling guilty at present. I feel so fortunate and thank the good Lord to be able to wake up in the morning in my warm bed secure in the thought that it is unlikely that our house will be bombed before nightfall - I can’t get the images out of my head…. Cold and hungry people trudging towards the border with the few possessions they can carry in sub-zero temperatures clutching a shivering cat or a terrified child.

No doubt, like you too, we were desperate to do something to help in some way so Rory, Rachel and I did an online cookery demonstration and raised over €13,000 for the Irish Red Cross Ukraine Appeal. One of our students, Grainne O’Higgins baked brownies, invited people to help themselves and perhaps donate – her little project raised €128.00. Tessa Lomas who has spent many years on the south coast of Sri Lanka showed her fellow students how to make Sri Lankan roti filled with curried mince or cheese and tomato as well as tasty hoppers and several sambals. They were all super delicious and once again raised just over €200 for the Irish Red Cross. 
 Let’s all ask ourselves what we can do. Every little helps, companies all over the country are donating food. Ballymaloe Relish has sent a palette of pasta sauce to Ukraine. The Sheridan brothers have mobilised the cheesemakers and cheese factories who have generously donated tons of cheese, Flahavan’s porridge oats and a palette of Barry’s tea is also winging its way to the Ukraine. Many of us didn’t even know where Ukraine was until a few weeks ago, now we know the names of all its major cities, the colour of its flag and the sound of its national anthem…get the kids involved as well – they’ll come up with lots of ideas.

We have learned so much about the food of Ukraine, thanks to Olia Hercules, the beautiful, young Ukrainian cook living in London whose parents and brother are trapped in Kyiv at present. For the cookery demonstration, Rachel cooked Ukrainian ‘Angel Wings’ with Black Cardamom and homemade dulce de leche (called Anna’s Sweet Milk). 

Rory cooked Spatchcock Chicken with Blackberry and Grape Sauce served with Olia’s Roast Beetroot and Plums with Radicchio and Soft Herbs. Both Rory and Rachel’s recipes were inspired by Olia’s cookbooks ‘Mamushka’ and ‘Kaukasis The Cookbook’ published by Mitchell Beazley. I myself cooked Chicken Kyiv and Pancakes with Ricotta and Dill, both delicious. Chicken Kyiv is definitely having its moment once again. Most of us hadn’t had it for years and had forgotten how delicious it was. 


Sunday, 23 January 2022

Marmalade Season is Here Again


It’s that time of the year again, the air is fragrant with the smell of marmalade bubbling away in pots throughout the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Such a joy to be able to welcome students back to start the Spring Program. Seven nationalities this time, all super excited and eager to learn and determined to pack as much as possible into the next 12 weeks.

Many, in fact most have never made marmalade before, so they are delighted to discover how easy and rewarding it is. They are so proud of their jars, carefully lined up on the shelf side by side with the raspberry jam they learned how to make in the first week to slather onto Sweet Crunchy Scones. 


So how about a marmalade making session this week? The Seville oranges are in season, you’ll find them in your local greengrocer, Catriona Daunt and Willi Doherty of Organic Republic will have organic oranges on their stalls at Midleton, Bantry, Mahon Point and Douglas Farmers Markets – so worth the little extra they cost – see organic_republic on Instagram. Blood oranges have just arrived into the shops too, as have bergamots, how exotic do they sound and they also make a delicious marmalade.




Jam making doesn’t tend to appeal much to lads but marmalade gets some chaps really excited – older men particularly have very fixed ideas on what perfect marmalade should taste like. Some like it bitter and dark, others prefer a fresh citrusy flavour, a dash of Irish whiskey or a couple of dollops of black treacle for extra depth of flavour. 


I’m loving our blood orange and Campari marmalade, a twist on one of my favourite aperitif combos.

Oranges are not the only citrus that make good marmalade, three-fruit marmalade can be made at any time of the year, e.g. orange, lemon and grapefruit. Kumquat marmalade is also a super delicious luxurious treat and don’t forget clementine, mandarin or tangerine marmalade all made in a similar way and now in season too.










Sunday, 16 January 2022

A Return to India


Last year our Indian holiday had to be cancelled for all the reasons we are now familiar with, so rather than ask for a refund, we deferred our booking for 12 months so we had something really to look forward to throughout the ups and downs of the last year.

In November 2021, India reopened for travel and one could get a month-long visa so rather than hop from one place to another, we decided to go directly to
Ahilya Fort, an enchanting heritage property perched high above the sacred Narmada River in Maheshwar where there’s always a gentle breeze.

It’s quite a mission to get there, Cork to Amsterdam and onto Delhi and then a domestic flight to Indore. A driver from the hotel welcomes you at the airport with a picnic to sustain you for the almost two-hour journey to the exquisitely restored fort, originally the home of Ahilya Bai, the warrior Queen who ruled Indore from 1765 – 1796.  

The driving force behind the restoration project was Prince Richard Holkar, descendant of Queen Ahilya Bai. He and his original wife Sally Holkar also re-established the almost extinct hand weaving industry for which Maheshwar was justly famous and is now once again thriving. Women now come from all over India to choose a much-coveted Maheshwar silk sari.


The balcony of our bedroom overlooked the ghats (steps), temples and chattris on the riverbank where there is endless activity from sunrise to sunset. It’s a riot of colour. Before dawn, local women come to wash their clothes in the river. Hundreds of pilgrims, some of whom have walked for over 150kms with their little bundle of possessions, pour onto the ghats to perform their pujas and bathe in the sacred river to wash away their sins.


Others chant, sing, pray… Children fly homemade kites, feed the sacred river fish and sell brightly coloured baubles to Indian tourists on day trips…There’s street food galore, poha, pingers, poppodums, sugar cane juice, guavas…The women bathe in their beautiful saris and then spread them out on the ghats to dry...

Little boats, all gaily painted, ferry devotees backwards and forwards across the km wide river to the myriad of temples on both riverbanks…From the poorest to the most affluent…everyone is so devout…it's incredibly moving.

The little town is bustling with activity too, lots of tiny shops, selling everything from garlands of marigolds and roses to embellish the Gods or welcome visitors. Intriguing hardware shops, tailors busy on their Singer sewing machines, jewellers hand beating silver, stalls piled high with spanking fresh vegetables and fruit, bananas, carrots, water chestnuts, papayas, watermelons, pomegranates… 

A host of Indian sweets and namkeen shops. Halfway downtown, close to the ATM machine, there’s a barber with an open-air shop front trimming hair, beards and soaping up chins ready for shaving. Around the corner, a man meticulously irons piles of clothes with a big heavy iron like one might find in an antique shop. 

Others sell colourful pictures of the Indian Gods, incense and much sought-after Shiva lingam from the river, and other essentials for puja’s (special prayers) – so beautiful and intriguing, it’s like walking through a Bollywood movie…

From early morning to late at night, the air is fragrant with the smell of food from the numerous street stalls, katchori, pakoras, bright orange jalebi, poha, robori and a wonderful fluffy saffron milk bubbling in a large kari (iron wok). 

By now you can tell that I love India. Everyday there’s another adventure, somewhere new to explore.

I had several wonderful cooking classes in Indian homes, usually from grandmothers who still do everything from scratch and cook over an open fire with wood and dried cow dung patties. The latter may sound very strange to us but in fact, it’s very common in rural India. 

Food cooked over dried dung fires tastes delicious. They don’t smell at all, it’s a brilliant way of recycling and Guess What…you can buy Indian cow patties (gotha) via Amazon! They are also used in some religious ceremonies.

How about the food at Ahilya Fort?

All meals are included in the room rate plus afternoon tea and non-alcoholic cocktails from 7-8pm. Much of the produce is home-grown in the organic gardens, on the farm or comes beautifully fresh from local markets.

Memorable, long lazy breakfasts with deliciously ripe fresh fruit and juices, homemade yoghurt (curd), jams made by Prince Richard Holkar himself, freshly baked breads…I made kumquat marmalade from the fruit in the garden and picked the lemons from the lemon tree to make a zesty lemon curd. There’s an Indian speciality every day, dosa with sambal, idli, uppam, masala omelette or Maheshwari scrambled eggs…

Lunch is mostly western vegetarian food but for dinner a different Thali every night, with 6 or 7 little bowls of delicious Indian food and fresh crunchy vegetables with a segment of lime and salt.

Some of the recipes come from Prince Richard Holkar’s book, the Food of the Maharajas, others have been brought to Ahilya Fort by the cooks from their family homes.









Monday, 3 January 2022

Food Trends 2022



I’ve been doing some crystal ball gazing in an effort to predict food trends for 2022. During the past year we’ve seen a considerable pandemic related shift on grocery buying habits as we adjusted to spending more time at home.

There’s been a well-documented rise in the food to go and meal kit area and considerable innovation as the restaurant sector struggled to pivot. Food truck numbers increased exponentially and these days it’s more usual to see a coffee machine in a horse box than a horse…

 


On the other end of the scale, Forbes predicts a rise in cooking robots and automation in the dining industry fuelled by labour shortages.

Expect to see more food ATMs and vending machines. Meanwhile, anyone living in a city or big town can’t have failed to notice the stratospheric rise in delivery bikes – akin to London or LA. After an initial rise in home cooking, cooking fatigue appears to have set in.

Nonetheless, my new book, How to Cook - 100 essential recipes everyone should know, is getting a tremendous response from people who think they can’t cook but would love to…! I’m always happy to write a personal message on request…

There’s a definite rise in the number of people prioritising food and drink products that promise additional health and well-being benefits. It’s difficult to get up-to-date figures on the number of vegans and vegetarians in Ireland but the increasing number of menu options and products on supermarket shelves acknowledges the growth in these areas. Plant-based ‘meats’ like the Impossible Burger and Moving Mountains Burger that sizzle and bleed continue to gain fans.

This year, reductarianism is the new buzz word. It has been dubbed one of the top 10 trends: Reductarians are “Not ready to go full vegan but want to significantly reduce consumption of meat”. This group are determined to make more sustainable life choices and restore the ecosystem. They seek out high quality pasture fed meat produced to high-welfare standards and want to be reassured of environmentally friendly production methods. The plant-based sector and the number of ‘plant-curious’ eaters is growing exponentially. The growing number of environmentally aware consumers want to hear that farmers are making an increased effort to protect wildlife and restore ecosystems.

According to Waitrose, nearly 70% of shoppers are going the extra mile to reduce their carbon footprint in some way or another. Research confirms that environmental awareness amongst consumers has surged during the past year with 85% of us making more sustainable life choices.

Trend forecasters have also noted that those working from home are eating bigger and enjoying more experimental breakfasts.

There’s been a spike in the sale of eggs, bacon and demand for all manner of exotic mushrooms is way up. Kits to cultivate oyster and lion mane mushrooms at home are all the rage. Post cereal snack packs to munch during the day and frozen sandwiches are emerging as lunch solutions.

Pet food sales have gone through the roof.

Urban hydroponic farming is a huge trend in cities all over the world. Everything from salad greens to exotic mushrooms. Innovation in indoor farming and growing some of our own food has skyrocketed. Some vegetable seeds were in short supply last year so order early for 2022. Supermarkets are using roof space to grow both indoors and outdoors. Hydroponics is creating a new interpretation  of locally grown – hyper local…Millennials and generation-Z-ers are dabbling with ‘drysolation’.

Buzz less spirits, bottled cocktails and ready to drink cans are revolutionising the bar experience. Definitely one of the top trends and here to stay. Functional fizz infused with probiotics and botanicals to boost immunity and benefit gut health and heart health are all the rage. Water kefir, kombucha, tinctures are mainstream. It’s no surprise that turmeric, with its many health-giving properties, is popping up everywhere, not just in fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles continue to gain market share.
Our love affair with coffee continues unabated. Cold coffee is trending. Look out for Amazake-Japanese coffee, Vietnamese iced coffee. Plant based dairy sales are up. Potato milk is the next big thing, it will be in a coffee shop near you before too long.

Japanese, Korean and Chinese flavours are trending. Sales of umami paste are gathering momentum. Food of the Caucasus and the Levant are also on foodie’s radar. Spicy foods are here to stay from Indian garam masala to Mexican tajini (a mixture of dehydrated dried chillies, lime juice and sea salt), Indonesian sambal oleck, BBQ rubs, Japanese gochujang – all add a pop of flavour.

Pomegranate molasses, Turkish urfa, chilli flakes and feta are flying off shelves. Every list includes Yuzu, the sour tart tangerine sized citrus from Japan, Korea and China that’s taking the culinary world by storm. Use it in drinks, cocktails, vinaigrettes, mayo, ponzu sauce, desserts… mostly available so far as a juice or a bottled sauce. There’s also a craving for old-fashioned flavours that bring back memories of happier more carefree times.

 
Nut allergies have accelerated the popularity of sunflower seeds – they are trending also and are great for people who have allergies to other nuts.

CBD food products, both food and drink are moving mainstream. Hibiscus, the red flowers of a colourful shrub, has been dried and used in tea and drinks around the world from Mexico to South Africa for years but are now included in a myriad of foods, ice-cream, cakes – high in vitamin C. Hibiscus tea is the new matcha. 

Moringa from the drumstick tree is being hailed as a new super food and tastes a bit like dried cherries.

Artisan bakers are burgeoning, virtually every small town in Ireland will soon have an artisan bakery and a range of viennoiseries offering natural sourdough. Market leaders are liaising directly with farmers to grow heritage grain varieties and using freshly milled flour for their loaves.

Sales of herbs and spices are up over 40% since 2020.

By no means a comprehensive list, and it’s always interesting to keep an eye on what is trending in the US. It’ll be coming our way before too long. There’s more genuine concern about food waste. Labelling is becoming more ‘homey’ with terms like 100% grown on American soil and regionally grown produce – watch that space...

Happy New Year to all my readers. Do continue to buy seasonal produce. We can all make a difference to local farmers and food producers with how we choose to spend our food money.