Despite the times that are in it, we have seven nationalities with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for the Autumn 12-Week Program. All have of course fully quarantined having made the long and tortuous journey from the other side of the world to come to a cookery school in the midst of an organic farm in East Cork to learn how food is produced from the much-hackneyed phase ‘from the farm to the fork’. 

They are of course learning how to cook and bake but also how to keep hens, milk cows, make cheese, smoke food, make charcuterie, pickles and ferments as well as wonderful 48 hour naturally fermented sourdough bread.  They are snapped up after the intensive course by restaurants, catering businesses and publishing houses around the world. 

Excitement is gathering for our American students as they look forward to celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving is almost bigger than Christmas in the US, I only recently discovered the history of this flamboyant feast and celebration.

According to my students, The Pilgrim Fathers arrived in New England in 1620 having crossed the wild Atlantic to America. They almost starved during their first harsh winter, so when the first harvest was gathered, they had a celebratory feast to thank the good Lord and Mother Nature.   This became known as Thanksgiving and is still celebrated every year on the last Thursday of November by Americans both at home and abroad.  This year, 2021, it will be on November 25th

Americans crisscross the country and the globe to join their family and loves ones.  They feast on turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potato, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.  Another bizarre favourite is sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.  The latter is quite the leap of faith for us but apparently, it isn’t Thanksgiving without this bizarre sounding dish, so pick up courage and try it, you may find that it is super delicious as my American students predicted.

Every family has their own favourite stuffing and traditions.  Column inches are written every year to encourage readers to try lots of variations on the theme.  The turkey in particular can be cooked in an ever-evolving number of ways.  One way or another, dry or wet brine the bird for 6-8 hours, this really enhances the flavour.  Then stuff with your favourite ‘dressing’. Alternatively spatchcock the bird and slather with spices or a gutsy herb butter. Best fun of all is to deep-fry the turkey, sounds terrifying but I have to tell you, it’s delicious. You’ll need a large deep saucepan and a powerful gas burner.  Don’t attempt this in the house, best to experiment in the garage or outdoors if the weather is clement.  Fill the deep saucepan with oil or dripping, gently dunk the turkey up and down a few times before submerging in the hot oil.  Keep a good eye on progress, this is more of a ‘macho thing’ – it’ll take about 45-50 minutes to cook through.  The skin will be a crisp mahogany colour and irresistible and the flesh, moist and juicy – extraordinary!

We surely need another celebration and indeed, despite the challenges, many of us have much to be grateful.  Let’s gather our families around us, give thanks and remember those who are no longer with us … 

Here are a few tried and tested recipes that friends and students have shared with me over the years. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Brine for Turkey

6 litres (10 1/2 pints) water

600g (1 1/4lb) salt

Brine the turkey overnight, not essential but it makes for moist, tender and flavourful meat.

*Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve.  Put the turkey into a deep stainless-steel saucepan, bucket or a plastic bucket.   Cover with the brine and a lid and chill for 24 hours.  Drain and dry well.  This is of course optional, but it hugely enhances the flavour of the turkey.  

Deep-Fried Turkey for Thanksgiving

Who but the Americans would have thought of deep-frying a turkey?  Bet you are deeply skeptical, so was I but I’ve become quite an enthusiast, it is such fun and a much faster way to cook the bird.  So how about trying out this method but NEVER leave the deep-fryer unattended.

1 x 4.4 – 5.4kG (10-12lb) organic or free-range turkey, brined (see recipe) (Remove the giblets before brining – use the neck, heart and gizzard to make stock to use for gravy.  The liver makes a delicious smooth pâté or parfait.)

oil to cover (in America, they usually peanut oil – pomace oil is also good)

To cook the bird, you’ll need a large deep pot, preferably with a turkey tray, lift hook and thermometer.  If you don’t already have a suitable pot, there are several options on the internet so get GOOGLING.  Grill gloves or thick oven mitts are also worth having.

Carefully choose a safe, level spot preferably concrete on your patio or close to the door in the garage.  Set up the gas burner and cylinder.  Remove the turkey from the brine.  Lift the empty saucepan onto the propane burner.  Lower the turkey into the pot, cover with water, mark the level on the side of the pot – the waterline should be at least 10 – 12.5cm (4-5 inches) from the top of the pot. 

Remove the turkey onto a tray, pour out the water and dry the pot.  Fill to the water mark with oil.  Turn on the heat and warm the oil gradually to 190˚C/375˚F.  Meanwhile, drain and dry the bird meticulously both inside and out.  Insert the lifting hook and impale the turkey neck downwards on the tray (there are several designs so follow instructions on your model.) 

When the temperature reaches 190˚C/375˚F, turn off the heat. 

Gently and GRADUALLY lower the turkey into the hot oil.  Relight the burner, maintain the oil temperature at 180˚C/350˚F and cook for 40-45 minutes allowing 3 – 3 1/2 minutes per 450g (1lb).

Slowly and carefully, lift the turkey out of the hot oil allowing it to drain over the pot for a few seconds and transfer to a tray.  Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh).  The internal temperature should read 75˚C/165˚F.  Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Serve on a large platter.  Carve and serve with all the trimmings.

Be super careful, maybe prudent to keep a fire extinguisher close by and I REPEAT, NEVER LEAVE UNATTENDED!

Note: Allow to oil to cool completely, strain through a fine metal sieve, store for future use.

Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Casserole

Jared Batson from Chicago shared this recipe from Prairie Grass Café. They piped a meringue mixture on the top of individual ramekins for each guest during thanksgiving time. They loved it…

Serves 8-10

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) sweet potatoes, washed with skin on (OR use half sweet potatoes and half butternut squash)

2 eggs

75g (3oz) butter (melted)

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of ground clove

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups miniature marshmallows

25g (1oz) pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

20.5cm x 20.5cm (8 x 8 inch) baking dish

Pierce the skins of the sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake sweet potatoes (whole) (and squash flesh side down if using) on a baking tray with parchment paper for 45-60 minutes or until a small knife easily pierces through the flesh without resistance. Cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes.

Meanwhile, lower the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes being careful not to include any parts of the skins. Pass through a mouli and whip in the beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar and spices. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with the marshmallows and then with chopped pecans if desired. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until top is golden-brown and the mixture is nice and hot. Serve immediately.

Traditional Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse and as a filling for a meringue roulade.

Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries (look out for the Irish grown cranberries)

4 tablespoons water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a small heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water.  Don’t add the sugar yet, as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold.


Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

The sauce should be soft and juicy. Add a little warm water if it has accidentally overcooked.

Green Bean Casserole with Mushrooms

This is super delicious, but I must admit I tweaked the recipe….  The original was made with packet of mushroom soup, freeze dried onions and frozen beans … this is even better…!

Serves 4-6

50g (2oz) butter

350g (12oz) onion, finely chopped

900g (2lbs) mushrooms, sliced

225ml (8fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz) milk

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

Green Beans

900g (2lbs) French beans

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

3 teaspoons sea salt

25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Crispy Onions

700g (1 1/2lb) of onions, peeled and sliced into rounds.

25g (1oz) butter

4 tablespoons olive oil


50g (2oz) flaked almonds

First make the mushroom sauce.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the milk and cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Next cook the crispy onions.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the olive oil, toss in the onions and cook stirring regularly on a medium heat until golden and crisp – 10 minutes approximately.

Meanwhile, prepare and cook the beans.

Choose beans of a similar size.  Top and tail the beans. If they are small and thin leave them whole, if they are larger cut them into 2.5- 4cm (1- 1 1/2 inch) pieces at a long angle.

Bring the water to a fast-rolling boil, add 3 teaspoons of salt then toss in the beans. Continue to boil very fast for 5-6 minutes or until just cooked (they should still retain a little bite). Drain immediately.  Taste, season with freshly ground pepper and a little sea salt if necessary.

To finish.

Heat the mushroom sauce, stir in the beans and transfer to a gratin dish.  Sprinkle the top with crispy onions and flaked almonds and heat through in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Eoin Cluskey’s Pumpkin Pie

The recipe for this delectable Pumpkin Pie came from the same Eoin Cluskey, who is the brainchild behind Bread 41 in Pearce St in Dublin where there is a continuous queue for the sourdough bread and irresistible pastries. He did a 12 Week Course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Autumn 20212. Thanks for sharing Eoin …. 

Serves 8


200g (7oz) plain flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

50ml (2fl oz) water

pinch of salt


300g (11oz) pumpkin flesh (finely chopped) (variety – Uchiki Kuri)

225g (8oz) golden syrup

75-100g (3 – 3 1/2oz) pumpkin skin

80g (3oz) breadcrumbs

juice and zest of 1 lemon

pinch of ground ginger

23cm (9 inch) round tart tin

First make the pastry.

Sieve 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.

Using a fork to stir, add just enough water 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. Flatten into a round and wrap in parchment paper and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

Once rested, roll out, line the tart tin and retain the excess pastry. Line the tin with parchment paper and fill with baking beans and chill for 5-10 minutes in a refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in the preheated oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.

Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Peel the pumpkin and set aside the skin (keep the seeds for roasting for a healthy snack).  Finely chop the flesh.  Heat the golden syrup in a pan and add the pumpkin flesh, lemon zest and juice.  Bring this mixture to the boil and remove from the heat.   Blitz the breadcrumbs and pumpkin skin in a food processor and add a pinch of ground ginger.   Mix the bread crumb/pumpkin skin mixture into the pumpkin flesh/syrup mixture.

Fill the tart case with this pumpkin mixture and decorate as your wish with the left-over pastry – lattice, leaves etc.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Cool, remove from the tin.

Serve either warm or cold with softly whipped cream.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes