ArchiveMay 26, 2024


There’s a really interesting movement in the US called homesteading which I think may have originated in America but certainly gathered momentum during Covid when thousands left the cities for rural areas to get away from crowds and out of their cramped apartments.
Some acquired land or settled on farms or ranches, others had small back gardens or balconies. They gradually adjusted to life in the countryside. Many wanted to take back control to grow some of their own food, vegetables and a few herbs, keep a few hens, pigs, even a cow. They longed to bake bread, make jams, pickles, preserve but struggled to relearn, forgotten or more often never learned skills.
Many returned to urban living after the pandemic, but many did not, and now others are eagerly joining the movement saying, “It’s my one and only life, there must be a better way than this”. There are multiple blogs, chapters, podcasts and huge conferences for devotees.
Often they are young professionals, sometimes with small children who are sick and tired of the rat race in the cities, the commute, the cost-of-living crisis, the ever-escalating rents. This movement is called Homesteading in the US, but there is an equivalent movement in the UK, and in several other countries – Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Australia with various names crofting small holding, campesinos….
In the US, it seems to be particularly among millennials and Gen Z, often highly educated young techies, people in the financial world, lawyers, accountants, those who can quite easily work from home. They dream of being self-sufficient, to enjoy a different lifestyle both for themselves and for their children who long to roam wild and free. Many home school, some even choose to live off the grid.
For many, it’s a romantic dream, but they soon discover that to be comfortably self-sufficient you need to be of considerable independent means otherwise it can be all work and very little play…
Talking about change, now that I am in my mid-seventies, I’m being encouraged to draw back from the day-to-day running of the Ballymaloe Cooking School to leave it to the very competent team around me. It became evident not only to me but to everyone else that retirement was not quite in my character, and that if I wasn’t to drive myself and everybody else totally mad, I certainly needed another project…So my new ‘start up’ at 75 is the Ballymaloe Organic Farm School which runs concurrently with the Ballymaloe Cookery School here in the middle of our 100-acre organic farm in East Cork. This got underway last autumn. There’s been an enthusiastic response and the curriculum continues to build. There are day courses and week courses and at present we are midway through the Six Week Sustainable Food Programme. The fully subscribed course is made up of five nationalities with the highest percentage coming from America. There’s a real craving to relearn skills and to take back control of our lives and food. There seems to be growing skepticism of the corporate world. People appear to trust multinationals, governments, and financial institutions less and less. Essentially the movement would seem to be a rejection of the status quo.
Everyone on this 6 Week Sustainable Programme and they come from a myriad of different backgrounds and careers, want to learn how to live more sustainably and to have a lighter impact on the planet, they are determined to find ways to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Beginners Brown Soda Bread

For those who are convinced they can’t make a loaf of bread – it couldn’t be simpler – just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted. Whether you are an astronaut or a physicist, baking your first loaf of crusty bread is a rite of passage…

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves (10-12 slices)

400g stone-ground wholemeal flour, we use Howard’s One Way

75g plain white flour

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, sieved (bread soda/baking soda)

1 teaspoon pure salt

1 egg, preferably free range

425ml buttermilk or sour milk approx.

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing

1 tsp honey or treacle

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Grease a 13 x 20cm (450g) loaf tin OR three small loaf tins (14.6 x 7.5cm).

Put all the dry ingredients, including the sieved bicarb, in a large bowl and mix well. Whisk the egg, buttermilk, oil and honey or treacle together. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid. Mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy.

Pour into an oiled tin or tins. Using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. If you fancy, sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 60 minutes for a large loaf or 45-50 minutes for small loaf tins, until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy every scrap and it will still be good toasted when it’s several days old.

Basic Vegetable Soup Technique

Well over half the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on this simple formula.

Use the same receptacle to measure each ingredient and liquid – a cup, mug, measure, bowl.

Serves 6

1 part chopped onion

1 part chopped potato

3 parts any chopped vegetable of your choice, or a mixture

5 parts stock or stock and milk mixed


One can use chicken or vegetable stock or water and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added, and one can get super creative and drizzle lots of exciting herb or spice oils on top

So, one can make a myriad of different soups depending on what’s fresh, in season and available.

If potatoes and onions are the only option, one can still make two delicious soups by increasing one or the other and then adding one or several herbs – potato and fresh herbs or onion and thyme leaf.  We even use broad bean tops, radish leaves and nettles in season.

A Green Vegetable Soup 

Ingredients as above but with green vegetables e.g. spinach, watercress, wild garlic, nettles, chard greens, radish leaves, broad bean shoots, kale, mustard greens, leek greens, foraged greens or a mixture

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. 

Add the stock and continue to cook until the onion and potato dice are tender. Add the freshly chopped greens, return to the boil, uncovered for 3 or 4 mins or until just cooked. Taste and serve or liquidise for a thick soup. Taste again and correct the seasoning.


If the green vegetables are added at the beginning, they will most likely be over cooked and the soup will lose its fresh taste and bright green colour.

Vegan Option

For a vegan option, use vegetable stock or water and substitute soya, almond or cashew milk for creamy milk and proceed as in the master recipe. 

Onion and Thyme Leaf Soup

Here is an example where I increase the onion – 4 parts onion, 1 part potato and add some thyme leaves, simple and truly delicious.

Serves 6 approximately

450g chopped onions

225g chopped potatoes

45g butter

1-2 tsp fresh thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

150ml cream or cream and milk mixed, approx.


a little whipped cream

fresh thyme or chive flowers or chopped parsley

Peel and chop the onions and potatoes into small dice, about 7mm.  Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. As soon as it foams, add the onions and potatoes, stir until they are well coated with butter. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place a paper lid on top of the vegetables directly to keep in the steam. Then cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and sweat on a low heat for 10 minutes approx. The potatoes and onions should be soft but not coloured. Add the chicken or vegetable stock, bring it to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked, 5-8 minutes approx. Liquidise the soup and add a little cream or creamy milk. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen garnished with a blob of whipped cream, sprinkle with thyme or chive flowers or chopped parsley.

Bread and Butter Pudding

This is one of the older nursery puddings that has enjoyed a terrific revival, but initially it was just a way of recycling old bread, made with just milk and a scattering of dried fruit. It was something that you ate but didn’t necessarily relish. But there’s nothing frugal about this recipe – it’s got lots of fruit in it and a generous proportion of cream to milk. When people taste it, they just go ‘Wow!’ I know it has a lot of cream in it, but don’t skimp – just don’t eat it every day! We play around with this formula and continue to come up with more and more delicious combinations, depending on what’s in season and what we have around; see below for some of them.

Please see variations for my seasonal rhubarb bread and butter pudding – delicious!

Serves 6-8

12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed

50g butter, preferably unsalted

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice

200g plump raisins or sultanas

450ml cream

225ml milk

4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

110g sugar plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling

pinch of salt

1 x 20.5cm square pottery or China dish

Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the spice and half the raisins, then arrange another

layer of bread, buttered side down, over the raisins, and sprinkle the remaining nutmeg and raisins on top. Cover the raisins with the remaining bread, again, buttered

side down.

In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the tablespoonful of sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly whipped cream.

Note: This bread and butter pudding reheats perfectly.

Bread and Butter Pudding with Cardamom and Pistachios

Substitute ½ – 1 teaspoon of freshly ground and crushed cardamom instead of the cinnamon.  Proceed as in the master recipe, sprinkle 50g coarsely chopped pistachio on top before serving.  One could sprinkle a few extra over the sultanas while assembling if desired. 

Delicious Bread and Butter Puddings can be made using:

• Barmbrack as a base – add mixed spice or cinnamon.

• Panettone – proceed as above.

• Scones – proceed as above.   

• Brioche – proceed as above or use apricot jam and lace with apricot brandy.

• Rhubarb or gooseberry and elderflower compote or spiced apple purée may also be used.


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