And, just like that, week three has flown by. We’re 25% of the way through the course. It was a jam-packed, great week. I learned how to make a lamb roast from the lamb I butchered the week before and “pan gravy” now makes sense to me. You make it, literally, in the pan the roast just came from. We learned that glazed carrots are a revelation and so easy to make. I learned how simple it is to make homemade mayonnaise and we were told that only the very top tier restaurants and bistros make their own and how pedestrian it is to serve ready-made. 😉 I learned how to make apple jelly and pan-fried another pollock I haltingly filleted.
My duties this week were making a round of brown soda bread for lunch two days in a row, meeting at the glass house at 7:30 one cold morning of 40 degrees to cut the greens for salad that day and kitchen three for the after lunch cleaning blitz. After we’ve been in a kitchen all morning cooking, the kitchens are quite a sight and cleaning them is no joke.
The duties have a method to their madness in that you learn something valuable while doing them. Also, you provide help to the never-ending needs of running a big time operation like Ballymaloe Cookery School. It’s never idle and nothing can be left for another day. As a result, I’ve learned so much about making bread and how lettuces are grown and harvested, which are which, etc. And, cleaning...I was already pretty well versed on that score. But even that, there’s a reason for. They want you to see that running a kitchen isn’t all glamour. There’s the down and dirty aspects too, obviously, like scrubbing out the ovens after 10 lamb parts roasted away all morning, among other things.
After two days deep in the trenches, cooking, plating, presenting and cleaning up the aftermath, the real highlight of this week was Wednesday and our trip to Ballymaloe House for a tour and tea. This is the house that started it all. It’s the home that Ivan Allen bought for himself and Myrtle in 1948 and this is where they raised their 6 children. As time passed, Myrtle, now in her 90’s has said, "On a winter's day I sat by the fire alone and wondered what I would do in this big house when they were all grown up - Then I thought about a restaurant.” Ivan encouraged her to open one right there, in their very own home.
Myrtle’s dream was to emulate the best Irish Country House cookery so she scrubbed down the kitchen table and with the help of two local women she set up shop. They cooked on an Aga, a traditional heat storage stove and cooker in many Irish country homes of that time, at first and Ivan and their daughter Wendy helped run the front of the house. Their shepherd, Joe, ran the bar. The food was good and the restaurant flourished. They used their own produce, unpasteurized milk and cream, veal, pork, homemade sausages, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Ivan would go to Ballycotton every day for the fresh catch. From the very beginning, they were eons ahead of their time. Even reading through her’s and Ivan’s love letters from when she was 17, we were told she’d referred to a place as having a real “foodie atmosphere.”!! She was truly a woman ahead of her time.
We found ourselves, then, highly anticipating our time at Ballymaloe House. It did not disappoint. It sits on 400 acres and the oldest parts in the present house can be traced back to an Anglo-Norman castle built on the site around 1450 and most of the present building was completed in 1820. They gave us all a tour of the main floor and kitchen, the wine cellar, the garden, one of the cottages for rent and then led us into their solarium where our tea service awaited. We were all in high spirits and it was a delicious way to while our afternoon away feasting on treats and perfectly brewed tea.
Afternoon tea is a lovely, indulgent affair. Have you ever gotten to experience it? The first time I was treated to one was in Dallas at the Adolphus Hotel and Ooma had made all the plans. Being in my early 20’s, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I longed to share this tea with her. She’d have loved every elegant second of it. It was she who told me, for it was she who knew everything, about the history of the English afternoon tea that day at the Adolphus. An English aristocrat named Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in the 1800’s, introduced the idea of it. Apparently, the Duchess would get hungry around four o’clock each afternoon and since dinner in her household wasn’t served until eight o’clock, she had a long wait. So the tradition of afternoon tea was born in order to fill in the long gap between lunch and dinner.
It’s rather a pity that lifestyles have sped up and changed to the point that afternoon tea is no longer a necessary stopgap but a treat. Seriously, who has time to sit down and enjoy scones and cakes in the late afternoon anymore?
When we left Ballymaloe House, it was getting late and with our bellies full, we were ready to get back and settle in with the gathering dark. The harvest moon of that evening was a perfect punctuation mark on the day. Each day here brings so much, it’s kind of hard to take it all in, in the moment. But, when I have a moment to think, I simply can’t believe I am getting to have the experience of living on this farm in Ireland and share it with Arden. We feel so lucky and are so happy we're here, doing this thing, together.
Good night, all!