This article was published in the May 2015 issue of the Irish American News under the “Guilty Pleasures” column.
Darina Allen hesitated when I asked her about her guilty pleasure.
“I don’t think I have one,” said Allen, the founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland. I could hear Allen pull her head away from the receiver and ask her assistant Sharon Hogan for help.
Finally Allen said, “Occasionally I have a chocolate ice cream. What do you call it? A Magnum. No, choc-ices.”
That was the beginning and end of guilty pleasures for Allen. For most of our conversation, we discussed the importance of sitting around the table for a home-cooked meal, the joy of cultivating fertile soil, fresh ingredients, teaching people how to cook and the legacy of her cookery school.
Although we were speaking by phone, I could feel Allen’s energy and passion radiating across the line. She truly lives and breathes everything encompassing food, which is handy since she owns and runs a cookery school.
“I think if I was to come around a second time, I would be a soil scientist,” she shared as we discussed the benefits of fresh produce and the soil it comes from.
“We have forgotten that we all depend on the four to five inches of soil around the world for our very existence. The health of the soil, the plant, animal and human are all totally connected.”
She got me thinking about what guilty pleasures truly mean in the context of our dependence on soil. Could we have guilty pleasures without healthy soil? As my thoughts digressed into philosophical meanderings, Allen pulled me back to real life.
“I want to remind people, in their busy lives, how important home cooking is to our own health, vitality, our ability to concentrate and indeed to our quality of life,” she offered.
She believes that food should be our medicine and that if you start off with really good, quality, fresh, local food, it’s easy to get recipes to taste good. If you start off with mass produced food, “then you need to be a magician [to make it taste good].”
She pointed out how much money we spend on our hair, nails and dogs, anything, but food often falls low on the list.
“I just think that the benefits of and rewards of home cooking far outweigh the sort of inconvenience of spending time in the kitchen. Push food shopping to the top of your list of priorities,” Allen said.
Everything about the cooking experience brings Allen joy. Fortunately, at her cookery school, she is surrounded by amazing produce, which they farm onsite.
Allen is adamant that if you grow something yourself and you wait for it to mature into something you can eat, which takes about three months, “you will not boil the hell out of it in the kitchen.”
“You just want to give thanks. You just feel moved to say grace and give thanks, to nature, to whatever. When you have the first of the new potatoes, the new rhubarb, you just want to thank the good Lord for the joy and the gift of something like that. I’m sounding really crazy, but you don’t feel the same about a fish finger,” said Allen.
Allen feels deeply fortunate to be living in the middle of a farm. Every day she cooks she feels excited and feels equally lucky to be able to teach people how to cook.
“There’s nothing that touches peoples lives in the same way as cooking. When you’re teaching them cooking skills, you’re giving them a gift for life. The way to everyone’s hearts is through their tummies,” said Allen. “You know [cooking skills are] something that can never be taken away from them.”
If you happen to be in Ireland May 15-17, stop by the cookery school for the The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine. For more information, go to: http://www.litfest.ie.
Save the date: Darina Allen will be in Chicago for iBAM, October, 9-11, 2015, where she will receive the Culinary Arts Award for her outstanding contributions to the field. For more information about the event, go to: www.ibamchicago.com.
Here’s a recipe from the Ballymaloe Cookery School for you to try. If you only take one piece of advice from Allen, get the freshest ingredients and take some time in the kitchen, you may find you enjoy it.
Cullohill Apple Pie
The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
225g (8oz/2 sticks) butter
40g (1 1/2oz/scant 1/4 cup) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
350g (12ozs/2 1/3 cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
675g (1 1/2 lbs) Bramley Seedling cooking apples
150g (5oz/2/3 cup) sugar
egg wash made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk
castor sugar for sprinkling
softly whipped cream
Pie tin, 18cm (7 inches) x 30.5cm (12 inches) x 2.5cm (1 inch) deep
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart
Roll out the chilled pastry 3mm (1/8 inch) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Peel, quarter and dice the apples into the tart, sprinkle with sugar and add the cloves. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.
Make in exactly the same way but use approx. 900g (2lbsg) sliced red rhubarb (about 1cm/1/2 inch thick) and approx. 370g – 400g (13oz -14oz/1 3/4 cups) sugar.