Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.
Ballymaloe was pure joy. I suppose that place, for me, holds something of the wonder of Wonka’s factory. I didn’t spy any Oompa Loompas but the chocolate tart was extraordinary and I suspect we may, Augustus Gloop style, have cost them a fortune in fudge.
Ballymaloe ignores foodie trends and steadfastly sticks to serving the best of Irish farmhouse cooking. It’s difficult to explain why you should pay a premium rate for bacon and cabbage unless you believe my Teenage Son when he tells you it was the best bacon and cabbage he has ever eaten. The roast lamb and floury potatoes in their skins tasted exactly like they did when my Granny made Sunday lunch.
Granny worked as a waitress during the 50s and 60s. She was intelligent and well-spoken enough to find employment in the best hotels. The highlight of her modest career was being trusted not to spill the soup on Princess Grace of Monaco during her 1961 stay at Dublin’s Gresham Hotel. She told us the manager had a photo in his office of Grace with Granny behind her. I’ve scoured the internet, to no avail, for a hint of that photograph.
In later years she worked for a company who specialised in Outdoor Catering. As a child, I thought she meant they made picnics but in fact she was beavering behind the scenes at big shindigs held at the Mansion House and Aras an Uachtarain (residences of the Lord mayor and President respectively). The top brass of Dublin knew her as Mary. We were never allowed to utter a bad word concerning Charlie Haughey as it was his generous tips which allowed Granny to buy out her ordinary terraced house from the council. Yes, he tipped that much. Do you doubt me?! She was one of the little people but she saw how the other half lived.
I’m certain Granny’s own mother was an able cook who trained her well but I suspect Granny gleaned tips from the chefs she worked with. I remember her tiny scullery being transformed into a test kitchen as she experimented with Salmon Mornay. She believed in St. Anthony and Good Food.‘You are what you eat’ was her maxim.
Ten years ago, I brought Granny to lunch at Ballymaloe House. She approved. What more can I tell you?
On another trip to Ballymaloe Cookery School, Granny and I posed for a photo with Darina Allen. The nice person who used my camera somehow managed to NOT take the photograph and, once again, Granny escaped the celebrity photo opportunity.
Our waitress on Sunday was very much of Granny’s ilk. She didn’t ask whether we wanted seconds, rather she told us in no uncertain terms that we would have them. I noticed that the second big dish of spuds (I choose that term because it is, in this case, the right one) and extra bowl of buttered cabbage were parked directly in front of Teenage Son. When the dessert trolley ran short of raspberry jelly, our woman made sure we all got an extra large serving from the next bowl. After the whole room had been offered a piece of homemade fudge with their coffee, she came back and stealthily deposited the serving plate beside Middle Girl. To be honest, she sort of made my day.
I don’t often imagine that Granny is at my shoulder but…maybe.
Listen, I’m going to put a link in here to a song I love. Almost no-one ever clicks the links but this one is special. This one tells you how much my generation loves Willy Wonka. There is no video. Just close your eyes and let Glen Hansard carry you away….
Adieu Gene Wilder, and thanks. You were Willy Wonka.