We’ve spoken with loads of people about Ireland and they all say “It’s really green!” Having come off a week of traveling there and visiting with friends we can confirm the rumors are true, it is really green! Of course there is more to Ireland than shades of green, but one of the things that really drew me into the place while we were there was being surrounded by it all the time.
As you may have noticed a running theme in our travels, we really have utilized our friend and family network on this trip. Down to the wire it has been the case. We’ve moved legs of the trip around, changed direction, got new ideas about things to do, and really remained flexible. Well, we made friends with a lovely woman from Northern Italy named Alice on the Sustainability Study Trip in Thailand. Alice having read our post about us visiting Francesco in Italy dropped us an email saying how nice it sounded to visit with him again and it was a shame we weren’t heading to Ireland on this trip as she had space and time at the moment to show us around a bit. Well, we emailed her right back and told her we probably could make it happen since we had recently finished our time on the farm in Turkey and were looking forward to a bit of a cooler climate.
Besides not putting Ireland on our original agenda, since it was geared towards mostly Asia based traveling, Ireland had never really crossed our minds as a place to visit. Way back I have Scottish roots, but as far as I can recollect, NO Irish. Tracie even remarked on our way back to Germany, that it had never really even crossed her mind as a place to travel. The thing we both knew was whenever Ireland has come up the recollection that it is a really green place always sends visions of rolling hills, spring rivers and frolicking sheep through the head. One month after scorching hot temperatures in Turkey and a “yes, please” wasn’t so hard to come up with to Alice’s invitation to come visit.
It turns out, Alice’s boyfriend, Paul hails from a small West Cork Village and knows a crap load of fun and interesting facts about Ireland and Cork County, where they live and we spent the bulk of our time traveling around with them. You could spend weeks just in Cork County and not see or do everything that sounds even a hint interesting.
Alice and Paul know the skinny on all things about food in the area and in just a few days time, in between seeing the countryside and stuffing our faces we were starting to feel that the country was so rich it deserves another three or four visits. “Mom would love Ireland.” became the mantra. So, Mom we have to come back with you and show you around.
Early on in our travels Tracie’s sister Lannie had sent us a link from The New York Times’ website about an interesting sounding farm and restaurant called Ballymaloe, “Reclaiming Ireland’s Culinary Heritage, One Roast Lamb or Sponge Cake at a Time”.
Ballymaloe and Darina Allen are to Ireland what Alice Waters is to the United States both have all but single handedly lead the movements in their respective country to save the food cultures of their countries. Alice lead the flag and brought Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food movement to the U.S. And Darina heads it up in Ireland.
We skimed over the article and said amongst ourselves, “wow, cool…too bad we don’t know anyone in Ireland…” and headed into Singapore and then Thailand. Eventually, over conversation at lunch or dinner one day, Ballymaloe came up and we asked her if she knew where it was. She said it was near her home in Ireland. We put that in the back of our mind and somehow, when Alice suggested we come visit, it came rushing back. Ballymaloe was one of the last places we visited with Alice, but one of our favorites.
It’s not the easiest place to find. Signs appear and dissapear and the Irish roads are meant to be navigated only by locals like Paul. But Paul was bringing home the bacon and Alice an Italian ex-pat and two Americans were left to find our way. When we were nearly there we took an accidental detour to explore the glimpse of what appeared to be a lighthouse and seashore rising up out of the barley fields. We head down the road to investigate.
The Beach of Ballycotton
After being mesmerized by the lovely view of the shore and lighthouse, we felt a bit lost so we pulled over and asked a young man working in a lawn near the road. He sent us in the right direction and after another stop and request for directions we were on our way.
The road down to the Ballymaloe House, restaurant and cafe took us through a long green abutted driveway, over a small cattle guard into view of the Ballymaloe House a Norman Castle from around 1450. A Castle as a restaurant and hotel overlooking a stunning view of Ireland’s rolling hills and dales. Not a bad place to spend a few days or share a nice lunch and with grumbling bellies we set off for their cafe, tucked behind a general store loaded with Irish goods and a cook’s dream of culinary tools and resources.
The menu, a chalkboard of the days specials hadn’t even been posted and we sat patiently, placing our drink order, to see what delights awaited. Just behind our table the counter struggled with a load of homemade goodies. Alice settled for a sampling of those while Tracie and I opted for more savory options. Hers was a salad of Smoked Mackerel over a bed of freshly picked field greens and mine was the most elegant rendition of a quiche, a Leek and Cheddar tart, I’ve ever had. That’s right Thomas, Ireland has kicked your ass.
My tart quivered with Irish cream, milk and the finest farmhouse cheddar with rustic perfectly braised stalks of leeks careening into every fork full. At Ballymaloe, I could tell, it’s all about the ingredients. I was delighted to see Chef Keller’s Bouchon cookbook resting in their bookstore and chuckled to myself seeing how the finest and freshest ingredients could trump even the most revered chef’s attempt at the best quiche in the world.
Tracie’s salad held forth more subtle surprises as the flakes of locally caught and smoked mackerel crumpled into the greens which were delightfully evenly dressed and seasoned simply with oil and lemon. Alice’s sampling of desserts disappeared before I had a chance to nibble so we settled for a few for ourselves.
As usual my first pick was ordered by my lovely wife so I settled for simplicity in a cake, a cupcake topped with a fresh field strawberry. Coming from the home of the cupcake battlefields brought a little bit of New York back as I sunk my teeth into a slightly drier than I’d have preferred attempt of a vanilla cupcake. Perfection in one thing a day is good enough for me and the best cupcakes back home would be there waiting to fill the void left that day. Tracie’s apricot vanilla custard was as much a quivering success at a pie as my own tart and we all left with full bellies and warm hearts as we headed down the road to check out the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Garden and Farm.
In Ireland, signs lie. Ours said that the farm and cookery school were only a two miles down the road. The road was a narrow meandering jaunt that was peppered with cars swerving to avoid us as we tried our best to stay out of there way. Tracie and Alice plodded ahead as I lingered behind snapping off a few nice looks at the farms and fields that smashed us up against the road.
By the time we reached our destination, we had taken on the dull headed worn fatigue of those that have bitten off more than they can chew and grabbed a bit to drink before we paid the small fare and headed to explore the lovely English styled gardens and impressive organic greenhouse.
Legs tired from the “two mile walk” we managed a ride from a lovely couple visiting from Los Angeles, U.S.A. And winced and held our breath as the gentleman meandered from left to right forgetting from time to time that the Irish drive on the left. As oft repeated, we said to ourselves as we drove away “My mom would really love Ireland.”
Ballymaloe House, Farm and Cookery School