After stubbing my toe for the third time on the same suitcase and feeling the pain waft slowly up my leg, I knew that I wasn’t off to a good start.

Today was officially the first day of the Ballymaloe Cookery School adventure, I was eager to hop out of bed (not my forte), and go tackle the day.

Despite battling a ferocious cold and cursing my toes, I was in a pretty good mood. Outside was dry and I looked forward to breakfast that was being served to us at 8.30am.

Now I’m not a big breakfast person, but when you see fresh porridge flavoured with strawberries, apple juice from the orchard and a stockpile of Irish cheeses and chorizo – how can I resist?


I happily tucked into my breakfast treat and though I may not be quite converted to porridge and muesli just yet, it’s certainly upped its game And the cheese? Well, let’s just say I demolished Clonmore and Cheddar like I hadn’t eaten in days.

“This is a wooden spoon!”, Darina announced, brandishing one in the demo room after breakfast. “I want to make sure that you can make a living from it”. And so, our learning began.

With our folders in hand, name tags on our chests and wellies donning our feet, we headed off into the 100-acre gardens that the cookery school sits upon.

To say it was a jam-packed day would be an understatement, so in a nutshell, we learnt about exactly what the Ballymaloe ethos is all about – from leaving no waste to making the perfect compost – information was hijacking our brains (and my ears, with enthusiasm).

(Darina teaching us about composting)

herb walking
(Sauntering through the herb garden)

(Learning from Tim Allen about the many things he and the gardeners grow outside)

(Fresh tomatoes on the vine in the glasshouses)

(Sampling the many vegetables from under the glass)

(We planted our own Cos lettuce – I shall call him Sebastian)

(Chilis! I’ll be avoiding these fellas I reckon)

After a quick break from our garden and glasshouse adventures, we learned a bit about each other and the many backgrounds that people had come from. It was like circle time for food addicts.

The majority of people wanted a career change, with people coming from all walks of life in the hopes of making a go of something after 12 weeks. Fingers crossed, folks.

** We also had an amazing lunch full of local produce but my phone is being bold and isn’t sending through images**

Finally, the demo began and while I had a massive headache courtesy of my sniffles, I wanted to make the most of it and take as many notes as possible – cold be damned!


We learned the basics of chopping, sharpening knives, sweating vegetables, baking a loaf of decent bread, oaty biscuits, creating simple soups and making lemonade and from the outset.

What I found what’s great about Darina is that she doesn’t make you feel stupid.

It’s a classroom environment and all questions are welcome, you may feel a bit unknowledgeable like me and be totally embarrassed why you’ve to ask what terms mean – but ultimately, that’s why I’m here. We paid the big bucks after all. Don’t bluff, it’s not worth it.


At 6pm we were let go and my body wandered back outside to the lush greenness of Ballymaloe and through rows of herbs and vegetables. Hippy heaven for me.

As I lay on the grass watching the sun dip below the trees, I couldn’t help but think about how wonderful life can be when you take time out to appreciate it.


Tomorrow we’re finally heading into the kitchen and while I’m a bag of nerves, I’m excited about donning my chef whites.

Some random things I learned today:

  • Soda bread is our official bread here in Ireland and it’s unbelievably easy to make. As someone who’s often terrified of baking, I’m hoping to convert people to this simple loaf that’ll stop them from buying shop-bought stuff ever again (seriously, if you tasted it today…)
  • Potatoes shouldn’t go into a stock pot or their peelings – they’re too starchy and they soak up all of the flavours.
  • For the nicest results, always follow the cookbook/recipe’s measurements and try not to convert (that is if they’ve written it well!)
  • Parsley stalks have loads of flavours and are worth popping into the stockpile.
  • According to Darina, apparently people lose weight on the course but I’m yet to believe it!

(All images © Úna-Minh Kavanagh/Spill the Beans)

Next: Ballymaloe Day 2

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