“Annette, I don’t mean to alarm you, but I think I’ve just incinerated my meringue”

Everyone has one of those days where everything seems to just fall on its face and you’re left scraping up the pieces. Today was definitely one of those days.

I wanted to challenge myself and chose to do the lemon meringue tart, as I had never worked with meringue before and pastry wasn’t exactly my strong point.

But first, we were on filleting duty! With a gorgeous fish in hand, me and my partner Patricia filleted our fresh seafood with the aid of our patient teacher, Annette.

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Time flew and before long we were coming up to our 12pm cut-off point. My lemon curd was beautifully yellow with a wonderfully zingy taste, and my pastry was just finishing up on its blind bake.

Concerned that my meringue wasn’t coming together, Rachel Allen – who had been walking around our kitchen again – asked if I had put in the sugar. My heart rose and fell at such a speed that I nearly collapsed on the floor. I hadn’t. She slipped it in and tried to salvage the mix but in the end I had botched it so much that I had to take a breath and start again.

Set back about 15 minutes and with my mountain of washing piling up, it looked like I would never get my beetroot tops or battered courgette flowers cooked.

I filled the tart with lemon curd and began to pipe my design. In a rather higgildy-piggledy way, I managed to make an acceptable tart and popped it in the oven, blasting for less than 6 minutes.

Disaster. As I opened my oven, all I saw was a miserable tart with dark black meringue sitting on top. It was like those really depressing bits of food you find at the back of your fridge that have been lying around for a few months.

With the feelings of absolute devastation staring me straight in the face, I explained my dilemma to Annette who rescued me in only the way a brilliant teacher can.

Turns out that it was only the meringue that had been affected, not the tart or curd. And so, with palette knives in hand, we pulled away the black horror and I set about piping up a fresh layer. The result? Well – let’s just say, it was much, much better.

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After a hap-hazard lunch, I headed into our Friday demo with Rory who was moving onto lamb! I only eat lamb once a year at Christmas and it’s always pretty amazing.

With a carcass in front of him, he began butchering the leg, shoulder and rack with the ease of his knife.

Pointing out the need to know what you’re doing, Rory commented that; “the brute force of ignorance is not worth it” and you really don’t want to risk mutilating your meat.

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One thing that Rory said that really stuck out for me was this, “take hold of the situation and deal with it”.

On reflection, as much as I was stressed out, I’m so glad that I persevered, didn’t cry and managed to finish my dreaded meringue. I know that there may even be worse days to come in the kitchen but I’ll deal with it.

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Some random things I learned today:

  • Rosemary is usually planted for remembrance.
  • To test if your leg of lamb is cooked, enter a skewer in the centre and touch it against your skin. The hotter it is, the more cooked it is.
  • Mint, like basil, oxidises so you have to use it straight away when it’s chopped up otherwise it will lose its colour and flavour.
  • Try not to buy prewashed potatoes. The dirt holds in flavour and nutrients plus they keep better.
  • Strictly speaking, a bouquet-garni consists of thyme, parsley and bay leaf.
  • To test a chilli, cut a bit in the centre of it and taste. The middle pretty much describes how the rest of the chilli will taste. The higher up you go, the hotter it will be.

Next: Ballymaloe Day 13

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