“With the Woman Who Started it All” was the name of the post on my blog from back in the day. A blog called “Karen in Cork” that was really more like a travel journal documenting my time on the Ballymaloe Cookery School course. I was so emotional about it that I literally only posted this photo. I didn’t add any text whatsoever. Being with this woman and soaking up all her wonderful wisdom, wit and of course recipes, was a life changing experience. How could that be put into words? So the glow on my face was my way to communicate the LOVE!
Fast forward to THIS blog and our weekly installment of Woman Crush Wednesday and one might wonder….”Geez Karen, you have done 20 crushes on 20 differently female chefs, aren’t you forgetting one?” Well my friends, I could never forget. I was just waiting for the perfect opportunity to share with you my infatuation with this incredible foodie. Darina Allen is a national treasure! She has literally transformed and guided a culinary movement in Ireland. Bringing attention to the fact that Ireland is leading the world in food ethos and care. It isn’t the quantity produced, but the quality.
From ‘seed to table’ isn’t just a clever buzz phrase invented by slick marketing teams, it is the way in which the Ballymaloe Team live their life. And what better day to choose then the day before the Feast of St. Patrick to share the love for my teacher, mentor, and dare I say idol in the culinary world!
When I left the States for the gorgeous countryside of County Cork in Southern Ireland, my American friends asked, “Well if you are going to a cookery school in Ireland does that mean you’re going to learn how to make stew everyday?” What they showed in ignorance, they gained in knowledge once they saw my weekly posts about the recipes, the people, the farm and indeed about Darina herself. Darina started the cookery school back in 1983. Since then she has written numerous award winning cookery books and graced the covers of magazines as well as been featured on television. But what she has created more than anything is a legacy.
There is a wonderful quote that says something to the effect of “the greatest thing in life is to create something that outlives you”. Obviously the school itself is amazing, and the team that Darina and her husband Tim Allen have put together is phenomenal. It is such a well oiled machine now that she and Tim can actually travel to far away places, such as India, when the school is in fact in session. But when she returns there are always more inspiring cooking demonstrations while she shares her glorious stories about their adventures.
However when you look at the number of chefs who have immersed themselves in her teachings and then gone off and left their own mark in the gastronomic realm, then you truly realize the reach that Darina has had. One of her students has even won Master Chef! On top of all that, several years ago she helped found the Ballymaloe Lit Fest. This yearly Food and Wine festival brings together chefs and food writers from all over the globe for a glorious gastronomic and literary weekend. In 2014 I had the pleasure of attending a day of the festival and it was one of the most stimulating and inspiring experiences I’ve ever had.
So here I am giving homage to this amazing woman and will be recreating one of her recipes live on Snapchat (username: blissbakery). However, each week when I choose a chef, I make a recipe that I have never made before to show those watching that it is possible. Often folks are reluctant to make a recipe unless they have been shown how to do it. I like to model the notion that it is okay to just dive in and do it! But, bear in mind, I have likely made every Darina Allen recipe she’s ever published! Except this one today! And what a perfect time to make it with Paddy’s Day tomorrow. It is a classic recipe from early Irish farmhouse cooking. And it is made with an Irish staple, RHUBARB! It is featured in Sunday’s Irish Independent newspaper. And in typical Celctic style, this recipe is in fact a hand-me-down. The tradition in Ireland is to indeed share recipes from one kitchen to another passing the culinary torch so to speak. This is how Darina eloquently describes it…
“This dish is a perfect example of the way in which recipes originally cooked on an open fire can be adapted to produce the most delicious results today. Anna Dodd, who gave it to me, remembers how her grandmother would strew the bastible with chopped rhubarb, sweeten it with a sprinkling of sugar and cover it with an enriched bread dough. When the cake was baked, it was turned out so that it landed upside down, with the sweet juice soaking into the soft, golden crust. It was served warm, with soft brown sugar and lots of softly whipped cream.”
900g (2lbs) red rhubarb
255-285g (9-10oz) granulated sugar
310g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
20g caster sugar
1 heaped tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
175ml whole milk
Soft brown sugar
Softly whipped cream
23 x 5cm (9 x 2in) round tin – we use a heavy stainless-steel sauté pan which works very well
Preheat the oven to 230ºC/450º/gas mark 8.
Trim the rhubarb, wipe with a damp cloth and cut into pieces about 2.5cm (1in) in length. Put into the base of your tin or sauté pan and sprinkle with the granulated sugar.
Sift all the dry ingredients for the scone dough into a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Whisk the egg with the milk.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the liquid all at once and mix to a soft dough. Turn out on to a floured board and roll into a 23cm round, about 2.5cm thick. Place this round on top of the rhubarb and tuck in the edges neatly. Bake in the fully preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 for about a further 30 minutes, or until the top is crusty and golden and the rhubarb soft and juicy.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Put a warm plate over the top of the sauté pan and turn it upside down so that the pie comes out onto the plate. Be careful of the hot juices, they will be absorbed by the pie.
Serve warm with soft brown sugar and cream.
Truth be told, anything Darina makes is perfect in my book! And this recipe is no different. I could write a post a day on her and not make a dent in the admiration I have for her. A woman in her 60’s who eats butter, sugar, cream, meat, all the things “experts” say not to eat. And yet she is as beautiful, vibrant, and energetic as the day she stepped foot in the Ballymaloe House to work under the tutelage of the legendary Myrtle Allen.
Knowing the humble Darina, when she finds out that I have done a Woman Crush on her she will turn to give credit to Myrtle, the matriarch of the Allen clan and one of the founders of the Slow Food Movement. As well, Darina will say that all of the achievements are because of the T.E.A.M. My own acronym for “Together Everyone Achieves More” fits here as there are gardeners, teachers, office staff, housekeepers, as well as the students, literally hundreds of people who make it all work. In fact Rachel Allen (Darina’s daughter in law and also a #WCW recipient) as well as Darina’s brother Rory O’Connell, both principal teachers at the school, are two of my all time favorite people!
But let it be said, as it was the night the top photo was taken, “with the woman who started it all” none of this would be possible! I love you Darina! Thank you for being YOU!
Deepest Love Imaginable!