IN her book Forgotten Skills Of Cooking, Darina Allen writes about the time-honoured skills — like curing bacon, smoking mackerel, making yogurt and butter.
Now, in these uncertain times when we are in self-isolation and at home due to COVID-19, it has prompted many of us to go back to practising important basics like home-cooking, gardening and DIY.
Darina says there’s no better time than to teach our youngsters some basic life skills that will stand them in good stead.
“Teaching our youngsters to cook with us in the kitchen, learning basic skills like peeling a potato using a vegetable peeler, using the dishwasher, and working the hoover, are all important life skills to have,” says Darina.
“Helping young people to learn to use cooking tools and household appliances is a great thing to do. Of course, teaching them to cook alongside you, beginning with simple recipes, is really beneficial.”
Cooking is therapeutic too.
“Yes, it is,” says Darina.
“Teaching youngsters simple recipes with simple ingredients is something we can all enjoy together. And we can enjoy the yummy results!”
Darina is grateful that Ballymaloe Farm and Gardens are still as productive as ever.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that we’ll get over this difficult time,” says the celebrity chef, who followed in her mother-in-law’s footsteps cooking with fresh produce from the fertile land and sea.
“I feel incredibly grateful that the farm and gardens are still open.
“The hens don’t stop laying; the cows haven’t stopped milking. We are still baking bread every day. We are offering a takeaway food service from the Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop that can be picked up on Saturday afternoons or delivered to your door. You can order online and your order will be packed up ready to go for you on Saturday.”
The fresh produce is simply delicious.
“We have home-made stews, soups, yogurt, buttermilk and fresh sourdough bread every day.”
The sign up on the door of the shop inviting us to sample Ballymaloe’s fresh produce harps back to 1964 when Myrtle Allen placed a note on her gate, inviting people to dine in her rural home in Shanagarry east Cork when she was a housewife.
“Myrtle made me realise the importance of good quality produce,” says Darina, whose own mother, Elizabeth O’Connell, taught her to cook.
“My mother taught me to cook as I pulled her apron strings. I could see quite clearly that to cook good produce by simple techniques made great dishes,” says Darina.
What kind of dishes can the youngsters get stuck into?
“Sweet white scones would be a good start,” says Darina.
“They are quite simple to make. When my mother made these scones for us as children they were always tender and delicious. We were adventurous, adding a few golden raisins to the mixture.”
Mother, like daughter, was creative.
“My mother always cut the scones into square or diamond shapes, and that’s the way I like to cut them too.”
Darina says it’s cool for young people to cook now.
“It is cool now more than ever. Cooking is a social occasion,” says Darina.
When we can socialise together again, our cooking/ baking skills can be honed if we practice them now.
She has sage advice.
“Apart from pasta and rice, don’t forget about the humble potato. It is so versatile and so easy to cook.”
Everyone can muck in helping in the kitchen while they are cooped up at home.
“Absolutely!” says Darina.
“Get your children and some friends involved in shelling the broad beans, preparing the salad, setting the table, obviously adhering to the strict social distancing guidelines now in place.
“Cooking together is having fun. This is what memories are made of. Get everyone at home involved in the chopping, peeling, grating, sieving, bonding over the cooker.”
Darina says getting youngsters involved in cooking and helping out in the kitchen is a healthy, important occupation that everyone can get stuck into.
“It is important to learn how to cook for lots of different reasons,” says Darina.
“Not least because much depends on the food we eat — our health, our energy, our vitality, our ability to concentrate. My father-in-law, Ivan, used to say; health goes in through our mouths and to our brains too.”
It is a no-brainer that teaching our younger generation the rudiments of cooking and teaching them to use simple kitchen implements, will only add to the quality of their lives now and in the future.
“When you can cook, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can gather ingredients together and whip up a little meal for your family and friends,” says Darina.
Cooking is the easiest way to make friends and influence people. The master chef has been there, done that.
“I remember once when I was staying with friends in America, I made them a loaf of soda bread,” says Darina.
“While it was cooking, I whipped up a little raspberry jam from a punnet of strawberries in the fridge; they thought I was a complete magician!”
Darina says we can create some magic in these testing times.
“Now that we have no choice but to slow down and take time out, we can get busy with our green fingers setting seeds in trays or pots and watch them grow. All you need is some soil and some sunshine. A kitchen window is a good spot to grow a tray of seeds or herbs.
“Nature doesn’t hibernate. Already you can see the daffodils and tulips and all the signs of spring jumping out of the ground,” Darina adds.
“Nature is on our side. Behind every black cloud, there is some light. Look after our planet.” Darina says that eating healthy food, looking after ourselves and our loved ones, is essential.
“Vitamins A and D aid our immune system,” Get some cod-liver oil capsules and eat some lambs liver, often served in a tomato sauce with bacon pieces and onions.”
Meat and two veg is still readily available.
“Now, more than ever, we are dependent on our local producers.
“We don’t want to see them going out of business.”
Some food producers have taken a leaf out of the Allen book.
“Dan Ahern is selling his fresh produce, milk, and eggs, from his farm gate,” Darina says.
How are the Allen youngsters occupying themselves, apart from learning lasting life lessons from the trail-blazing culinary queen?
“The little ones are sowing seeds and enjoying playing outdoors, and in the tree house,” says Darina.
“The older ones are using Facetime to communicate.”
Darina says the devastating outbreak of Covid-19 is a great opportunity to teach our children responsible life-skills.
Here Darina shares her recipe for Mom’s White Scones
7¼ cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 heaped teaspoons of baking powder
12 tablespoons butter
3 organic eggs
2 cups of milk
- Preheat oven to 475%
- Sift all the dry ingredients into a large wide bowl.
- Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and roll with your finger-tips until the mixture resembles very course breadcrumbs.
- Make a well in the centre.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough.
- Turn onto a floured board. Don’t knead, but shape just enough to make round.
- Roll out to 1 inch thick and cut or stamp into scones.
- Transfer the scones to a baking sheet-no need to grease it.
- Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar.
- Bake in a hot oven for 120-12 minutes until golden.
- Serve split with jam and a dollop of cream-or just butter and jam.
- To glaze, egg wash. Make by whisking 1 egg with a pinch of salt and granulated sugar.