“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.