'I miss hugs from my grandchildren'; Darina Allen on living through the coronavirus pandemic

'I miss hugs from my grandchildren'; Darina Allen on living through the coronavirus pandemic
Darina Allen at home in East Cork.Pic; Larry Cummins.

Cork cookery legend Darina Allen says she felt a little bit like a ‘has-been’ during her weeks of cocooning.

“I did feel that us over 70s felt a little under-valued in society when we found ourselves having to cocoon in our own homes for five weeks,” said Darina, 72.

“So many over 70s are energetic and so vibrant in society, doing valuable jobs and running their own businesses, who are making wonderful contributions to the country. When we were cocooning and cut off; it felt like we were losing it, that we had lost our social value. I know that was not the sentiment expressed by the Government and I saw the need for the measures. And I saw the reasons behind their policy. 

"But it did feel like, oh, I’m over the hill!" 

Darina felt fortunate to cocoon at home in Shanagarry.

“I feel blessed living on a 100 acre farm,” she said. “I didn’t feel so restricted while cocooning even though I really miss human contact and hugs from my grandchildren.

“I could see how people can suffer from cabin fever, missing their families and hugs from their grand-children. I find that very hard. Fortunately my grand-children all live near here and they can wave to me through the window and blow me kisses.” 

Other people are more isolated.

“So many other people were cooped up for weeks in small apartments or high-rise flats without a garden or a nice view," she said. "I could walk the farm and investigate the progression of the crops in the green-house and welcome the onset of spring while I was cocooning.

“I feel this year; it will be a great spring.” 

Darina is now forward to taking off for a spin to the nearby strand on her electric bike.

Darina Allen.Pic; Larry Cummins.
Darina Allen.Pic; Larry Cummins.

“I can’t wait to cycle 5 km,” says Darina. “I love my bike. It was a present to myself last year. I love it!” 

Darina, who three decades ago co –founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School with her brother, Rory O’Connell, and who is the author of 15 cookbooks, as well as being heavily involved in the Irish food movement, and who is on the board of numerous International organisations, is seldom idle.

“I was making good use of the robust crop of rhubarb from the garden while I was cocooning,” says Darina.

“I did a lot of jam-making in my own little kitchen in the house. The beetroot was luscious this season too and I found creative ways to use it. Beetroot is three vegetables in one. For instance, the young beets are delicious served hot sliced with butter and parsley after being slowly cooked for 15 minutes. The leaves can be cooked like spinach and added to quiches and omelettes. And the beetroot stalks which are juicy, can be shredded and added to a salad. These kinds of foods, like rhubarb and beetroot, have wonderful properties that help boost our immune system.” Does she miss her world-famous gourmet kitchen where students from all over the globe come to learn to cook like a pro?

“Not at all,” says Darina.

Darina Allen.Pic; Larry Cummins.
Darina Allen.Pic; Larry Cummins.

“My little back kitchen at home is well kitted out for cooking. The Aga is 75 years old. Older than I am! I even made mini-videos there showing people the basics, like how to poach an egg.” While cocooning, Darina did more ambitious things.

“I wrote letters to lots of politicians about re-opening the Farmer’s Markets,” says Darina.

“The markets were closed without warning even though the stall-holders were practising social distancing. For local producers producing fresh goods like eggs, milk, fish and meat, they have no market to sell their perishable goods. Hens don’t stop laying. Cows don’t stop producing a constant supply of milk,” says Darina.

“Local people only able to travel two miles miss shopping for fresh local produce. The Neighbourhood food initiative that we operate at the Cookery School shop helped the situation a little bit, but the Farmers Markets are a big loss in rural localities.” Darina who says she is a ‘glass half full person’, thinks the pandemic will have some positive effects on us and on generations to come.

“While I was cocooning, I came across an interesting podcast by an Aboriginal elder,” says Darina.

“The indigenous people are the oldest civilisation on earth. They have a long calendar that ends in March. The lore of the Aborigines is passed along orally. It was predicted by the end of March that a Global disruption would occur bringing about radical change signalling a new era. The lore didn’t specifically mention a virus, but a Tsunami of nature that would change our way of life.” Darina says our experience can bring about enormous good.

“I am a glass-half full person,” says Darina.

“I think people will be more aware of our planet now and how we treat it. I feel the pandemic will be a huge-wake up call for us to re-examine our priorities in life adapting to a ‘new normal’. We’ll take more time for ourselves. In modern times everyone was always complaining of being tired, of being exhausted. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate our lives.” Darina’s priority right now is to get back into the saddle and get on her bike to cycle 5km.

“I used to puff and huff cycling up hills,” says Darina.

“With the electric bike I don’t have to suffer the indignity of getting off the bike to walk up the hills!” Darina, who always sees the glass half- full takes time to smell the roses.

“I hear the bird-song loud and clear now. The air quality is so much purer the birds are singing louder than ever. The Spring is as beautiful as ever.” ENDS

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