30 Years at Ballymaloe — Off the Shelf
“Irish food is many things nowadays,” Darina Allen said when we spoke with her about her new cookbook, 30 Years at Ballymaloe. “There are, of course, the traditional dishes that many people associated with Irish food, like bacon and cabbage, Irish stew, soda bread — all, of course, delicious when well-made. However, this image of Irish food doesn’t in any way reflect the vibrant Irish food scene at present.” Allen has been a presence at the Ballymaloe Cookery School since it was established in 1983. 30 Years at Ballymaloe tells the history of the school through the Irish dishes students learn to prepare there. The recipes might surprise you, though. They range from obvious Irish favorites like Mother’s Sweet White Scones (recipe after the link for you to try at home) to local-ingredient-driven dishes, including recipes for everything from curry, poultry, seafood and even Irish charcuterie. The recipes are simple but enticing; the food photography is gorgeous and engrossing.
You might be surprised (and delighted, of course) to find in the pages of 30 Years at Ballymaloe a deep emphasis on locally sourced Irish produce and ingredients. “We have wonderful produce and raw materials in Ireland,” Allen told us. “We can grow grass like nowhere else in the world. So many of our best foods come from our grass, beef, lamb, dairy products, farmhouse cheese.” And 30 years later, it’s that ingredient-centric focus that still makes the Ballymaloe Cookery School so appealing to students. “Students now come from all over the world to the Ballymaloe Cookery School because the cookery school is in the center of a 100-acre organic farm and gardens.” As you flip through the pages of the book, the images pull you in: big stone barns, rolling hills dotted with sun-soaked cattle, gardens so lush you can hardly believe they’re real. It’s easy to let your imagination wander through Allen’s anecdotes about the Irish countryside and her relationships with fellow growers and vendors, but at the end of the day you always end up back at the table, stomach rumbling for some delicious food. And the recipes in the book certainly do not fall short in that arena. You’ll want to cook dishes like the Wild Garlic Custards, the Hot Buttered Oysters and the Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup with Cilantro and Cashew Pesto again and again.
The only thing 30 Years at Ballymaloe is missing is a warning that the book will make you dream about packing up your life and spending three months in the Irish countryside at cookery school. You can order your copy and live vicariously here.
These scones are my mother’s recipe, which I introduced to a wider audience in my first Simply Delicious TV series. I thought this would be a useful recipe to teach the clergy in the special course I ran for them, since it is simple and quick, but also makes a large amount, so they could freeze leftovers and reheat them quickly in the oven for visiting parishioners.
When my mother made these for us as children, they were always tender and delicious — but adding a few golden raisins was as adventurous as we got. These days, we teach numerous twists on the original (variations follow).
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Sift all the dry ingredients into a large, wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles very coarse breadcrumbs — surprisingly, this results in lighter scones. Make a well in the center. Whisk the eggs with the milk in a pitcher. Add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn onto a floured board. Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round. Roll out to 1-inch thick and cut or stamp into scones. Stamp out the scones with as little waste as possible; the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling. If you cut them into squares or triangles with a knife or pastry cutter, as my mother did, there is no need to roll again.
Transfer the scones to a baking sheet — there is no need to grease it. Brush the tops with the egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in the hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Serve split in half topped with homemade jam and a dollop of whipped cream, or with just butter and jam.
Golden Raisin Scones: Add 3/4 cup plump golden raisins to the basic mixture after the butter has been rubbed in.
Muscatel Raisin and Rosemary Scones: Add 3/4 cup Muscatel raisins and 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary to the basic mixture after the butter has been rubbed in.
Cherry Scones: Add 1 cup quartered candied or dried cherries to the basic mixture after the butter has been rubbed in.
Crystallized Ginger Scones: Add 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger (or drained and chopped stem ginger) to the basic mixture after the butter has been rubbed in.
Candied Citrus Peel Scones: Add 3/4 cup candied orange and lemon peel to the basic mixture after the butter has been rubbed in. Coat the citrus peel well in the flour before adding the liquid to stop it from sticking together.
Sugar and Spice Scones: Add 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon to the basic mixture with the flour. Instead of dipping the glazed scones in granulated sugar, use 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon mixed with 1/4 cup sugar.
Poppy Seed Scones: Add 1/4 cup poppy seeds to the dry ingredients. Serve with freshly crushed strawberries and whipped cream.
Chocolate Chip Scones: Chop 4 ounces best-quality chocolate and add to the basic mixture after the butter has been rubbed in.
Strawberry, Raspberry or Blueberry Scones: Add 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries (or whole raspberries or blueberries) to the basic mixture after the butter has been rubbed in. Increase the sugar by 2 tablespoons.
White Chocolate and Raspberry Scones: Add 3/4 cup fresh raspberries and 3 ounces chopped white chocolate to the basic mixture after the sugar has been rubbed in.
Recipe reprinted with permission from 30 Years at Ballymaloe © 2014 by Darina Allen, Kyle Books.