Last weekend I bought Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course, and by that I don’t mean I shelled out £8,972 to complete the school’s famous 12 week certificate. I mean I bought the cook book. First published in 2001, a revised edition was later brought out in 2007 and that’s the one I picked up on a bit of a whim last Friday evening.
For a while now the name Ballymaloe has been dropped into conversation by foodie friends. The rise in popularity of TV cook Rachel Allen, Darina’s daughter-in-law, has of course also increased its profile, but the school has become almost revered in my mind and that of my food journalist friends. Having read the introduction to Darina’s book this weekend, I decided that the time had come to take the plunge and start saving to do the course. A quick check on Ballymaloe’s website, however, confirmed to me that at that price my plan would have to take a rain-check.
In the meantime I am setting myself the challenge of working through the book, which Nigel Slater promises is full of ‘lovely recipes and plenty of help for the new cook’. I wouldn’t describe myself as a new cook, but for years I have been meaning to work methodically through Delia’s Complete Cookery Course; the food ‘bible’ in my home when growing up. Now it’s time to see how Darina measures up to Delia, and I’m quite interested to discover who wins out.
It makes sense to start at the beginning and what has struck me already is Darina’s way with words. I agree wholeheartedly with her food ethics and the way she explains them is certainly enviable. It can be hard to justify why good food matters, as ‘foodies’ are always at risk of being labelled ‘food snobs’. I just wanted to quote Darina here, because I think she puts her (my) case well:
It sounds extraordinary but in reality about 80 per cent of good food is about shopping, so the fundamental message we need to get across to our students is the importance of putting time and effort into sourcing good-quality ingredients. If one starts off with good, fresh, naturally-produced food in season, one needs to do so little to make it taste good.
Here’s to a summer of beautiful recipes courtesy of Darina and a bit of careful foraging.