ArchiveMarch 17, 2024

Saint Patrick’s Day

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, I hope you are celebrating…

I just love traditions, any excuse to add a little extra sparkle and fun and to enter into the spirit of the occasion. Sounds naff but we love to illuminate Ballymaloe House and the Cookery School in luminous green light in tandem with Tourism Ireland’s recent Global Greening initiative. Iconic buildings around the world were highlighted in what had been a very successful ploy to focus the world’s attention on Ireland. Buildings lit up green include the Opera House in Sydney; Empire State Building in New York; Niagara Falls in Canada; Christ the Redeemer Statue in Brazil, Prince’s Palace in Monaco, London Eye….
We’ll encourage the cookery students to pull out their green ribbons and glad rags, dress up and have fun.

As you know, Saint Patrick is reputed to have banished reptiles from Ireland so if we can find our felt snakes wherever they were carefully put away from last year we’ll set up a treasure snake hunt down by the pond garden. I know, I know…but it’s a bit of gas and silly fun for all ages.

Do you have a few special Saint Patrick’s Day dishes that you like to rustle up to serve to family and friends gathered around the kitchen table. I just love bacon and cabbage and parsley sauce. Of course, corned beef and cabbage is the emigrant’s favourite in America and very tasty it is too with some real Colman’s mustard mixed from the powder.
Many local butchers still make a batch of corned beef for Saint Patrick’s Day. We serve it at the Cookery School to our multi-ethnic students, but it has to be said that for many of our Irish students, it’s their very first taste of corned beef and they love it! Cook it with lots of chunky carrots and quartered cabbages and a big jug of parsley sauce and don’t forget plenty of floury potatoes and butter!
We also love to make a couple of spotted dogs to serve freshly baked and still warm slathered with butter for tea – totally irresistible. Remember, I’m on a mission to get everyone making some bread. Soda bread is the quickest and easiest and spotted dog, speckled with dried fruit is just a variation on the white soda bread. This recipe is from ‘The New Ballymaloe Bread Book’ published by Gill Books just before Christmas and I have to say it has been responsible for taking the mystery out of bread making for so many people which is definitely the object of the exercise. Now that the squishy commercial bread and faux sourdough have become so ubiquitous and seem to be unquestionably linked to the phenomenal rise in intolerances, it’s time to turn on the oven!.
Our field rhubarb is growing apace. For me, there has to be a rhubarb tart or rhubarb pie on Saint Patrick’s Day with lots of custard and a big dollop of whipped cream for a real celebration.

Once again, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Cork has a long tradition of corning beef – in fact, corned beef was a huge Cork export for much of the seventeenth century, and during the Napoleonic wars, Cork supplied the British army with corned beef. The skill of corning beef is still known, and some family butchers still keep a brine barrel, but the reality of Celtic-Tiger Ireland is that eating corned beef has gone out of favour. So even the butchers that know how to corn beef often don’t, because there is so little demand for it. It’s totally ironic that Americans seem to think that we still live on corned beef and cabbage, whereas many Irish people haven’t had it in years. Our local butcher Michael Cuddigan showed Mrs. Allen and her chefs how to corn beef before he retired, and they serve it in Ballymaloe for Sunday lunch. Now that we are passing on this skill to you, corned beef is something you don’t even have to ask your butcher for – you can just make your own. 

Serves 6-8

1.8kg corned silverside of beef

3 large carrots, cut into large chunks

6-8 small onions

1 teaspoon dry English mustard

large sprig fresh thyme and some parsley stalks, tied together

1 cabbage

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the corned beef into a saucepan with the carrot, onions, mustard and the herbs. Cover gently in cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage, cut in quarters and add to the pot. Cook for a further 1-2 hours or until the meat and vegetables are soft and tender.

Serve the corned beef cut into slices surrounded by the vegetables. Serve lots of floury potatoes and freshly made mustard as an accompaniment.

Spotted Dog

Taken from ‘The New Ballymaloe Bread Book’ by Darina Allen, published by Gill Books

In some parts of the country, spotted dog is also called railway cake – ‘a currant for every station’ as the saying goes.   In my case though, it would be ‘a sultana for every station’. I prefer them for their more luscious flavour. This bread has always been a favourite with our children, freshly made on Sunday mornings for our picnics on the cliffs at Ballyandreen or relished with lashings of butter, jam and steaming mugs of drinking chocolate after a winter walk on Shanagarry strand. Perfect for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Makes 1 round loaf

450g plain flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g plump sultanas

1 dessertspoon sugar

1 level teaspoon salt

1 egg

350ml buttermilk (approx.)

Preheat your oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Sieve the flour and bicarb into a large mixing bowl, then add the fruit, sugar and salt. Mix the ingredients well by lifting them up above the bowl and letting them fall loosely back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to the finished bread.

Now make a well in the centre of the flour. Break the egg into the bottom of the measuring jug, whisking to break it up, then add the buttermilk up to the 400ml level, so that the egg makes up part of the total liquid measurement. Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.

With your fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circular movement, drawing in the flour from the sides of the bowl. Add more milk and egg mixture if necessary.

The dough should be nice and soft, but not too wet and sticky.

With spotted dog, as with all soda breads, mix as quickly and as gently as possible to keep the dough light and airy but avoid over-mixing. When it comes together – a matter of seconds – turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands.

With floured hands, roll the dough lightly for a few seconds, just enough to tidy it up. Pat the dough into a round and press gently with the fingers to about 6cm high.

Transfer the dough onto a baking tray dusted lightly with flour. Mark the top with a deep cross and prick each of the dough triangles with your knife to let the pesky fairies out.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 35 minutes, until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

Cut into thick slices and spread lavishly with Irish butter and jam.

Spotted Dog is also really good eaten with slices of Cheddar cheese.

Rhubarb and Custard Tart with Pistachios

Rhubarb and custard are a combo made in heaven. This tart has a carefully arranged lattice of rhubarb on top but if you can’t be ‘faffed’ arranging the rhubarb meticulously, just scatter it into the tart base – it’ll still taste delicious.

Serves 10-12 


225g plain flour 

pinch of salt 

175g soft butter

1 dessertspoon icing sugar 

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind 


600g or a little more rhubarb, cut into small pieces 

1-2 tablespoons caster sugar 

2 large or 3 small eggs 

3 tablespoons caster sugar  

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

300ml cream 


45g coarsely chopped pistachio nuts (optional)

To Serve

softly whipped cream

1 x 30.5cm tart tin or 2 x 18cm tart tins 

Make the shortcrust pastry.

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and then rub in with your fingertips. 

Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.   Add the icing sugar.

Whisk the egg or egg yolk and add some water. Using a fork to stir, add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, shorter crust.

Wrap in parchment paper and leave to relax in the fridge for at least 1 hour before using.  It will keep for a week in the fridge and also freezes well.

Line a tart tin (or tins), with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes.   Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.   

Arrange the cut rhubarb evenly or in a chevron pattern on the base of the tart shell.  Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons caster sugar.  

Whisk the eggs well, with the 3 tablespoons sugar and vanilla extract, add the cream. Strain this mixture over the rhubarb and cook in the preheated oven for 35 minutes until the custard is set and the rhubarb is fully cooked.

Scatter with coarsely chopped pistachios.  Serve warm with a bowl of softly whipped cream. 


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