Sunday, May 26, 2013

(to read Brian’s take on the day, go to:

Pig in a Day!

Mom and offspring separated by a fence. "House" in the background.
            Close to the source… close to the ground .. close to the bone. We learn, we experience, we taste, we get our hands less than pristine. We channel our grandparents and great grandparents in their everydayness of making life work – of getting by – of giving and getting from the land.

yep... this was the size that was our subject for the day.

            So that’s what we do here. The learning curve is different for each of us on this Saturday, as folks from other parts of Ireland (including several now raising pigs), two American college students (who literally flew in for this class), a French ex-pat, two cookery students (I’m one), and Brian all assemble to see the process of parting out (“fabricating”, though they don’t use that term here) the animal and then preparing it.
Darina Allen orientating our group to raising organic pig farming.

            First Darina (the progenitor of all things Ballymaloe and the Irish food movement), leads us out to the pig field (for lack of a more correct term). Years ago they started out with three heritage varieties (no notes here, so can’t elucidate you). However, with the disease that swept through here a few years back, they could not bring in any more pigs, so decided to inbreed what they had. They feed their pigs a wide variety of things. But there is Irish law that prohibits pigs who will be fed to the public from getting “scraps.” Silly law, as pigs and humans should live in a symbiotic relationship of one using the other’s leftovers very efficiently. Evidently the pigs are fed and adore comfrey and seaweed which are really good for them.

Look carefully. See that squared-off section of dirt? The pigs did that... very neatly and intuitively. Smart piggies!

            The pig we would be “appreciating” throughout the day had been slaughtered 5 days before, and was probably 4-5 months old. Normally, they would want a pig a few months older and hung for up to two weeks. Adult pigs and their progeny were really friendly. They have “houses” … and root in the grass very neatly (actually a straight square)! Imagine! Brilliant! As Darina says, these pigs have a wonderful life: they live outdoors, root to their hearts’ content, would put the local vet out of business if he only had them to rely on as they never get sick, and they enjoy each other!  Then they have a lovely ride to town, have a sleep over with other pigs to relax, and then it's piggy heaven.

Phillip Dennhardt readies the piggie on the board.

            Our instructor for the day would be Darina’s son-in-law Philip Dennhardt, who is originally from Germany. He met Darina’s daughter in New York where he was working as a butcher (he’s 5th generation butcher, who completed his 3-year butchery apprenticeship in Germany and then returned to do his masters which is very difficult). He is a great teacher and obviously loves what he does -- as well as a great believer in following the natural lines of separation in the pig and only used the saw to go through the ribs (interesting that a butcher’s saw has the teeth going forwards instead of backwards). His knife of choice was a 6-inch semi-rigid filleting knife.

The piggie now parted out.

            Philip talked about growing up around his father’s business - nothing was wasted. At age 10, his father would have him scrape the meat between the bones, telling him, “It’s the little bits that determine at the end of the year what car you buy!”  Men who brought their animal to the abattoir (kill area), would actually follow their animal down the line to make sure they got their animal in the end. A big thing here in Ireland is “black pudding” made from all sorts of things including blood. However, there is Irish law against using the actual fresh blood, so they have to use “dried blood” instead (now really… which is worse?). Again.. several in the class were interested in being able to get their own fresh pig’s blood to make their own puddings!

Stuffing sausage!

          During the class time (9:30am – 5pm), Phillip used every part of the animal, except the ear (yes, he knows there are folks who love deep-fried ears), the tail, the adrenal glands, and the “squeal” as my American chef-instructor used to say!  

            In the process, there were six receptacles: scrap for the  chickens, stock, fat for lard, offals, skin for chitlins (there is probably an Irish term), and meat for sausage. And of course all the pieces to be cooked were laid out.  The variety of dishes he prepared with an assistant was amazing: head cheese, terrine, roast and stuffed pork, chops, 4 kinds of sausage, chitlins.

            Here they call “pork” pig meat that is uncured, and “bacon” is anything cured. “Bacon” as WE know it is called “streaky bacon.” So confusing!! Interesting that sea salt has a level of natural nitrites in it…. So that when meat is cured with it, there will be a slight pink ring.

That's head cheese in the foreground and chitlins in the background.

            The recipes that were made for us were: Brawn (head cheese) -- Pork, Spinach and Herb Terrine -– Ballymaloe Homemade Sausages -- Beerfest Sausage -- Philip Dennhardt’s Homemade Frankfurters – Salami – Chorizo -- Roast Stuffed Loin of Pork with Crackling & Brambly Apple Sauce. It was an inspiring day.

            Brian thinks he’s up to getting a half pig and cutting it up when we return home. I told him as soon as the garage is organized.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Time Lapse


            Today I was finally in the zone.  Today also marks four weeks in Ireland. 

            Really?  The days fly by. Nights are too short.

The calm before the storm in our kitchen.

and it barely begins...

in the thick of it!



The routine has settled in:
  • Daily:              Make sure I have my Order of Work filled out for the instructor to see how I have planned my morning hours of multi-tasking cooking. Leave our house at 7:45-7:50 to arrive at school 10-ish minutes later. Go to my assigned kitchen and station. Begin prepping for the morning. Partner and I will have divvied up the 4-6 recipes, which need to be completed (and our station cleaned) by noon, at which point the instructor will come and grade my creations based on accuracy, taste and presentation. We also must be accomplishing skills on the Skills list which our instructor signs off on. So.. not only must I joint a chicken (and about 50 other such skills), but do it three times to show I really do know it. Each day I have a different assigned chore. We eat a lunch of our morning’s prepared foods. The afternoon session of the next day’s recipe demonstration goes from 1:45 to 5:15-ish, after which we taste test everything. Also daily I should be filing all of my recipes and organizing my notes. Hasn’t happened yet, and am a bit panicked.
  • Mondays:       Begin cooking with a new partner in a new station with a new kitchen instructor.
  • Tuesdays:       Ditto of morning cooking and afternoon demonstration.
  • Wednesdays: A no-cooking day (yeah! Street clothes!). It is also the 7:45 am morning organic garden(ing) walk and talk by the head gardener. Then we are in lecture from morning until late afternoon. We have a “biscuit” of the week (that’s “cookies” to us yanks), a cheese presentation, sometimes a wine presentation, and in the afternoon cooking demos.
  • Thursdays:     Bring our bed sheets in to be exchanged for new clean (and ironed) ones. Ditto of Monday and Tuesday.  
  • Fridays:          Ditto Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. This afternoon we get our next week’s new partner and kitchen/station assignments. We also get our packets full of information, notes and recipes for the coming week.

From this...

to this...


            Between different kitchens, partners, station set-ups, constantly attacking new recipes, I have felt like I was constantly a beat behind. But today, it flowed and, well, I was in the zone.

            Here is a “taste” of what today in the kitchen was like: My assigned dishes were: 2nd day finishing of rhubarb jam, Moroccan spiced lentil soup, shortbread cookies with cream and strawberries. I was somewhat sad that I didn’t get to make the assigned Irish Stew, but will have to do that on my own I guess.

We are judged down to separate veggies being cut exactly the same size.

            In just two weeks from today (Friday), we will have midterms that will last 4 hours and test us on our knowledge of what we have learned thus far, both practically (joint a chicken, sharpen your knife), head knowledge, and  identifying spices, herbs in the garden, and foraged greens. By that point we will be half way through the course. 

Tout Sweet!

            Tomorrow Brian and I take off for 36 hours. First we’ll go to the larger town of Middleton to the great Farmer’s Market ( 

           Then we will drive half an hour to Cork to visit the English Market ( 

           From there we will drive to 90 minutes to County Kildare to ferret out St. Brigid’s  Well, and Monastery.

            I hope soon, I can file four weeks of amazing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Like Buttah


            Today my “chore” was butter.

            We have chores every day on a rotation. I swear Darina Allen (founder and Grand Matriarch and Entrepreneur extraordinaire), should write a parenting book! We all have rotating tasks that not only get the work done, but teach us in the process the hard behind-the-scenes work of a daily culinary/hospitality operation, and to have ownership and pride in it.

So far some of my most memorable chores have been: salad making where we gather the salad greens at 7:30 am (I spaced that one), taking all kitchen scraps out to the chickens, setting the lunch tables, blitz/cleaning the kitchen after all the damage from four hours of cooking has occurred, dishes after the afternoon tasting, serving lunch  or hosting and being nice to guests, making the daily fresh lemonade, gathering herbs, and today for me was making buttah!

            So, I arrive to find Tim (Mrs. Darina) has brought me about a quart of heavy cream from the morning’s milking of the Jerseys. Now it goes in one of manys (they don’t have KitchenAids.. they have … ) Kenmores (and I don’t think it has anything to do with Sears). Then you basically beat the “H” out of it until it separates into granules. Next you rinse it until the water runs clear and let it drain for the next two hours. Salt is added at the ratio of 2% of the total weight of the butter. However, I wanted to make it a fresh butter (won’t keep) and so I added just a gentle amount of English Sea Salt.  Next you get out the “butter paddles” (boards ridged on one side), and roll balls of butter. So zennnnnn. And very satisfying. I dare say more than a few folks chose my butter balls at lunch!

            Simple… natural … why don’t we do it for ourselves? How many of our children/ grandchildren/ nieces and nephews even know where butter comes from?

            One thing I’m finding, living closer to the food supply, is that smaller amounts of really good stuff satisfies much more completely with less bulk. Are we starving for our sources?... and so instead eat and drink to satisfy an elusive  hunger?

            I look out on the harbor every day … and it is enough. The TV is silent. Our music is the song of the birds and the howl of the coastal storms. It is enough.

            In two weeks I’ll have a comprehensive test on everything I’ve learned (or was supposed to learn so far): techniques in the kitchen, herb and spice identification and uses, and what’s growing on the grounds .. both wild and intended.  I’m feeling good about most cooking techniques (though I’m a little dicey on jointing the chicken and getting the “oyster” in … and fileting a fish -- we’ve learned the round fish.. next is the flat fish). Herbs and spices I know… but seeing all the different lettuces (or “leaves” as they say here), are a bit baffling, and yet foraged greens are slowly making their way into my bones.

            Where do I take this? What do I do with all that I am learning? Can I drink in every moment without getting lost in the details?

            Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mike O'Shea

            His name is Mike, and he owns a pub and B&B on the main street in our little town of Ballycotton.

Brian and I went in for some pub grub tonight, but found out there is only food served Fridays to Sundays. It was just us in the bar, and Mike seemed happy enough to direct us someplace to get food. But we decided to take a load off our four feet and bellied up to the bar.

Mike told us about the beers on draft and let me taste two besides Guinness (and yes Guinness won out). Mike’s wife is the cook on weekends. His three daughters help out. He lent us some books on the area to take home and peruse.

Mike told us the pub culture is changing… thinks it’s probably due to technology. Used to be that the pub was the center of social life. Not so much any more. Three 20-somethings might be sitting up at the bar each with their smart phone making other connections.

It was a really nice pub. And Mike was the kind of guy you probably could talk to about just about anything.  I wonder if three days of food service a week is enough to keep him afloat.

The recession is still affecting people in Ireland. The real estate boom of 2006 crashed, and as in the U.S. of A., many Irish are upside down on their homes by a third or more.

In our class of 60 at Ballymaloe, many of the students are looking to a new career after having been deemed “redundant” in their jobs.  Each day Darina reads advertisements from food establishments seeking “passionate chefs.” And each morning Darina asks in her coach-mother-cleric tone of voice: “.. and how many have found a job?”

Think I’ll ask Darina about Mike.