Darina Allen is a true celebrity in Ireland. Her cookery shows have been televised and her books are a staple in
most Irish homes. She is the founder of Ballymaloe,
a successful cookery school in East Cork which she runs with her husband Tim Allen.
Darina has kindly agreed to provide a weekly recipe on the site, so get out that apron and start cooking!
Christmas by Committee
Living in an extended family situation all year round, my idea of an ideal
Christmas is to jump on a plane a day or two before Christmas and to head for
the snow-capped mountains of an Austrian village, to forget completely about
plum pudding or turkey and to have a beer and frankfurters and lots of 'frites'
in a ski cafe on the side of the piste.
However, last year despite my best laid plans it didn't quite happen that
way, so we all ended up descending on Ballymaloe for Christmas dinner. There
were to be three generations, about 28 of us in all, so Myrtle decided that a
rota was called for so nobody got over-burdened with an unfair work-load
considering these were our three precious days holiday.
Everyone was allocated a job or a time slot down to the smallest mobile
grandchild, Bridget aged 6 put out the crackers,
Caragh and Emily were to be waitresses, Fawn was Maitre D', Toby and Feidhlim
were in charge of drinks and so on.
Myrtle and Natasha and I were in charge of the cooking. Myrtle put on the
turkey, plum pudding etc. and then went to Church, Natasha kept a close eye on
everything during the morning and put on the roast potatoes. I arrived just in
time for a glass of bubbly and some oysters, everything was very jolly,
grandchildren of every age darting around trying out their new presents.
Eventually Natasha and I repaired to the kitchen to make the gravy, cook the
sprouts etc. The turkey was cooking very beautifully, everything was going
exactly to plan.
When it eventually came to serving our feast Myrtle inquired about the bacon
- 'what bacon' - I hadn't come across any bacon, she had certainly put it on!
Ballymaloe kitchen isn't your average cosy little kitchen, as in most
restaurant kitchens there are several cookers. I eventually found what I had
presumed to be a stockpot at the back of one of the stoves and looked inside,
there indeed was what could have been bacon, cooked to what might be called
either melting tenderness or rags and tatters, depending on your frame of mind.
We endeavoured to lift it out of the pot with a huge carving fork, whereupon it
disintegrated into many pieces. Eventually amidst great hilarity, we strained it
out of the pot thanking our lucky stars that there were no paparazzi with long
lenses in Ireland to reveal to the nation at large the real truth about Myrtle
and Darina Allen's Christmas dinner. We tasted, it was surprisingly tender and
delicious so we scooped it into a serving dish and served 'bacon rillettes' with
Ballymaloe Traditional Roast Turkey. Its not unknown for our own Christmas
dinner to be a comedy of errors , the reason we were having bacon was because
Myrtle had accidentally given away our ham and the year before we ended up
eating our neighbour Stephen Pearce's turkey which had been delivered to
Ballymaloe for safe-keeping!, but the ultimate was the plum pudding, unknown to
us 'someone in sweets' had stored the left-over mincemeat in a plum pudding bowl
and covered it with a lid and you've guessed that was exactly the one we grabbed
off the shelf and cooked on Christmas Day and of course it collapsed into a sad
fruity heap when it was turned out after 3 hours boiling!
Christmas wouldn't be quite the same without an odd hiccup, I keep wondering
in these days of plastic bowls how many plum puddings end up in a molten mess
when the water evaporates. We haven't touch wood done that on Christmas Day yet,
but it has been known to happen on the first endless boiling!
This year we plan to have Roast goose stuffed with potato and onion stuffing
and served with lots of crusty parsnips and roast potatoes.