Art, Craft and Food Naturally at Ballymaloe

Art, Craft and Food Naturally at Ballymaloe
Palais de Poulets
Ballymaloe is a working farm, producing magic by the moment. I went through the looking glass last Wednesday and, in a few short hours, sampled this incredible place.

With Colm McCan as our guide, we passed the Palais des Poulets and stepped into a one acre bubble where all kinds of vegetables grow organically under the warm shelter. And so too do a selection of vines, though even the enthusiastic Colm knows that more magic will be needed if the fruit of these East Cork plants is to be turned into wine.

A fertile Allen imagination is at work in the calm warm place. One segment of the shelter has a newly laid carpet, of grass. Here later in the month, one hundred people will sit down for the Long Table Dinner, a night of fine food and conviviality.
Under cover clockwise from bottom left:
tomatoes, passionfruit flower, Colm with grapes,
and borage in the herb garden

Many tales illustrate the 30 year old story of Darina Allen’s Cookery School and we mingle with the students for lunch. The starter is pea soup. Sounds mundane enough. But it was excellent and the main course, with the Belly Bacon an outstanding feature, was incredibly delicious.

And the magic was sweetly evident on the dessert plate, emphasized by that natural cream from the Jersey cows, a memory of good times past but very much part of the present reality here in Ballymaloe, provided by six Jerseys that yield the milk for the table and for the students to make their butter, cheese and yoghurts.

Man does not live by bread alone, though I could think of a worse diet than that emanating from the Ballymaloe ovens. Colm now directed us to the gardens, starting with the herb garden, based on the legendary gardens of Villandry. May not have quite the scope of the Loire chateau but Ballymaloe has its surprises, including that unforgettable After Eight Mint (one of many varieties, including Banana and Orange).


Dinner. Check out that Jersey cream on the dessert plate!
Soon we were into the herbaceous border, a magnificent example of the type, and heading for the  Shell House, hardly a house, just a very small building but unforgettable. Here, some 20,000 shells have been artistically arranged (by Blott Kerr Wilson in 1995). You'll never look at mussel shells or scallop shells in the same way again. The gardens and shell house are open to the public and there is a charge.

Back in the main house, built around the remains of a 15th century Fitzgerald castle, part of which still stands, we went down to the wine cellar in the rock on which the buildings stand. Here lay treasure! Colm handled some of the great wines of the world with care and, like a good Corkman, I just looked, eyes and mouth open!

Time now for a reviving cup of coffee and where else would you go but to the tig beag, the roasting house of Mark and Golden Bean, right next to the well known wine and entertainment venue, the Grain Store. Mark was roasting a few kilograms of Ethiopian beans so we waited for the crack and soon we were sampling, via his AeroPress, the freshest coffee we had ever tasted. Mark, by the way, has a new outlet for his excellent coffee and soon you'll be able to buy and drink it at the Princes’ Street store, just opened (02/07/14), by The Rocket Man.
Mussel shells in small sample from Shell House

Now for a little cultural exercise, in the environs of the house and the field outfront. Colm introduced us to Richie Scott, the exhibition's coordinator. Richie would be our knowledgeable guide on the sculpture trail which features a walk into the middle of the cornfield to see some of the exhibits.

Richie first assembled FORM for Mount Juliet last year and now this revised version will be in Ballymaloe until September 28th. There is something for everyone here: some humorous pieces, some severe, large scale pieces and small, abstract and figurative. You may not like every piece but do bring the kids and let them loose; take your time as you walk around and let your eye wander and allow the magic in.

My favourite, in this first walkabout, was perhaps Holger Lonze, especially The Large Seabird. Enjoyed too the quirky pieces, mainly in Kilkenny Limestone, by Eileen McDonagh. And what about that stranded surfboard, high and dry at the base of the big tree? Go see for yourself. No charge.

Almost ready. Mark checks a roast.
After quite a packed few hours it was time to say goodbye. But we’ll soon be back. Already the first date is confirmed. On Thursday, 24th July, at 7.00pm, a Krug Champagne tasting with Nicole Burke, Krug USA Brand Ambassador, will be held in the Ballymaloe Cookery School (note venue). Contact colm@ballymaloe.ie for further details and bookings.

And all that magic? Probably the usual formula: 5% inspiration, 95% perspiration.

Some upcoming Ballymaloe events
Ballymaloe Garden Festival, August 30th and 31st. www.ballymaloe.ie
Feel Good Food: Let’s Cook, one day course with Chef and Nutritionist Debbie Shaw at the Cookery School, Monday July 21st. www.cookingisfun.ie
Master It with Rory O’Connell, Two Day Course which sees Rory teaching a slection from his book. Wednesday Jul;y 30th to Friday Augist 1st.  www.cookingisfun.ie

On the FORM trail.






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