The Darina Allen Column

Darina shares some highlights from the recent ‘Celebrate Our Producers Day’ at Ballymaloe, where the link between the cook or chef and the producers who make their job possible has been treasured for many decades.

As cooks and chefs, we are totally dependent on the quality of the raw materials we can source to make beautiful fresh tasting food. We are super fortunate in Ireland to have many fantastic artisan and specialist producers - since Covid even more seem to be popping up every week.

There's a growing entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude around the country and the brilliant thing is that many of these start-ups are situated in rural areas, creating extra employment in the countryside. Recently we had a Celebrate our Producers Day here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School to introduce our students to some of the food heroes behind the ingredients they cook with.

Rod and Julie Calder Potts came from Kilkenny and Eunice Power from Dungarvan in Co. Waterford (see below). There was also quite a representation from West Cork where many of the pioneers got started.

Sally Barnes from Woodcock Smokery overlooking Castletownshend harbour has been smoking fish for over 40 years. She learned her trade by trial and error...her initial fish smoking efforts were a desperate attempt to preserve four beautiful brown trout that had been caught in Ballyalla Lough, now devoid of trout. She shared her passion for wild caught fish, fire and smoke and her deep knowledge of the state of the seas, lakes and rivers and the tragic demise of fish stocks around our coasts.

Sally, one of Ireland's most iconic and feisty artisan producers, is now teaching master classes in an attempt to pass on the skills she painstakingly acquired smoking award-winning wild salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and other white fish over the years. The herrings and sprats have now all but disappeared, much of the catch transformed into pellets for farmed fish.

Anthony Creswell's Ummera Smokehouse is also in West Cork. A second generation multi award-winner who also smokes duck and chicken breast and traditional cured rashers as well as organic salmon. Ummera Smokehouse ships smoked salmon all over the world and they too are happy to have visitors to the smokehouse close to Timoleague in West Cork.

Toby Simmons, known to many from his stall in the English Market in Cork city but also based in West Cork where he and his lovely wife, Jenny Rose have transformed the Toonsbridge Dairy close to Macroom into a destination café with a woodfired oven, shop and dairy that produces five or six types of Italian filata style cheeses to supply his many Olive stalls around the country. Toby's story which started with olives is also intriguing. He set up the Real Olive Company in 1993. Later Toby imported a herd of buffalo into Ireland to make mozzarella, burrata, stracciatella, caciocavallo, haloumi, smoked scamorza, ricotta and Cheddar - also worth a detour...

Rupert Hugh Jones produces both native and gigas oysters in Cork Harbour,, close to Carrigtwohill in East Cork where his father David established oyster beds in the 1960's. Rupert shared the intriguing story of the life cycle of the oysters, and the challenges and rewards of producing one of Ireland's most prestigious products. Rupert is also founder of the award-winning Mahon Point and Douglas Farmers Markets. Students were intrigued to hear about the many opportunities the farmers markets present to do market research and sell their artisan and specialist products. Rupert does many exciting corporate events and bespoke tours of Rossmore Oysters.

Eunice Power from Dungarvan in Co. Waterford is another totally inspiring and seemingly unstoppable entrepreneur with a 'can do' attitude in spades. She enthusiastically regaled the 12 Week Certificate Course students with tales of her life in food...restaurants and gourmet catering, everything from weddings to huge rock concerts in the O2 Arena and delectable picnics for the Lismore Opera Festival. Always highlighting local ingredients, local fish and shellfish and meat from her treasured local butcher Michael McGrath from Lismore. Her fish and chip restaurant in Dungarvan named 'And Chips' established in 2019 draws devotees from far and wide. This is no ordinary chipper...

And last, but certainly not least, lovely Rod and Julie Calder-Potts, from Highbank Orchards in Co Kilkenny, an extraordinary couple of passionate entrepreneurs who farm with nature to produce a variety of beautiful apples, from which they make 15 plus organic products... apple juice, apple cider vinegar, several ciders, apple syrup, apple treacle, Calvados (apple brandy) and more recently a sensational rum (and I don't use the word sensational lightly) Dark Doyle Apple Rum, created to celebrate their daughter’s marriage to Jamie Doyle last year. Seek out their products in various locations all over the country (listed on their website) and online and watch out for events at the Highbank Farm.


Ruth Calder-Potts kindly shared this recipe. Serves 4

4 rashers, dry-cured bacon
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2kg Irish mussels
1 bay leaf
50ml Highbank Proper Cider
150ml cream
freshly ground black pepper
handful of fresh parsley
crusty bread (for soaking up all the sauce)

Fry or grill the bacon until crispy then set aside. When they have cooled, cut them into strips.
Wash the mussels in cold water. Discard any open mussels.
Fry the shallots, until translucent along with the garlic.
Place the mussels, bay leaf and cider into a large pot. Add the onion and garlic and cover with the lid.
Place on the heat for about 5 minutes, shaking the pot a couple of times during cooking. The mussels should all have opened, remove any closed ones.
Add the cream, pepper and chopped parsley and cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the bacon.
Serve with the crusty bread to mop up all the yummy sauce.

Every now and then you want to make a cake for someone special and push the boat out! This is one of those cakes. The addition of coconut makes for a deliciously damp cake, the raw coconut on the exterior introduces an element of fun. It's worth putting a little planning into the cake. Firstly, organise your ingredients, never underestimate the importance of a shopping list! I suggest making the coconut filling the day before so that the cake can be assembled when it's fresh.

275g self-raising flour
70g desiccated coconut
1 tbsp rosewater
375g caster sugar
175g butter, melted
3 eggs
375ml milk
Coconut Cream Filling
300g white granulated sugar
6 egg whites
350 salted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
160g coconut milk
2 tbsp of raspberry jam
100g raspberries
100g raw coconut (available in health food shops, I buy mine in Blasta Health Food Store, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford - 058 23901)
a tiny drop of red food colouring

Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas mark 3.
Lightly grease a 20.5cm tin with high sides and line with parchment paper.
Add all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir until mixed, then add in all of the wet ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool for 1 hour. This cake is moist and dense.

Coconut Cream Filling
Place egg whites and sugar in a saucepan and whisk until almost simmering. Remove from the heat and pour the egg white and sugar mix into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed for about 10 minutes, until the sides of the bowl are cool, and the mixture has about doubled in volume. Add the butter chunks, a few at a time, and beat until incorporated. It may look curdled but keep beating until the butter is well incorporated and the frosting is glossy.
Add the vanilla, salt, and coconut milk. Whip for another couple of minutes until smooth.
If you make this ahead of time, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Before using, bring it back to room temperature and whip it for a few minutes until smooth.

To assemble the cake
Slice the cake into three equal size layers, the cake may be quite dense in the middle, don't be alarmed - this is fine. Spread a tablespoon of raspberry jam over the first layer, then pipe lightly with a quarter of the coconut cream filling and sprinkle with half of the raspberries. Place the next layer on top and repeat with the jam, coconut cream and raspberries. Put the third layer on top.
Using a spatula, spread the remainder of the coconut cream evenly over the cake and decorate with raw coconut.
NOTE: To make the coconut pink in colour, add a tiny drop of red food colouring to a bowl of water, then stir in the coconut. Leave for about 10 minutes until the coconut turns pink and strain the water off using a sieve. Pat the strained coconut with a tea towel before spreading on a sheet of baking parchment and allowing it to dry overnight.


The Bread 41 Teach the Teachers Programme
An absolutely brilliant initiative - bravo to Eoin Cluskey and all the team at Bread 41 for launching The Bread 41 Teach the Teachers Programme. They are inviting home-economic teachers across Ireland to learn how to teach Breaducation and are on a mission to get more kids eating real bread. Interested home-economics teachers who would like to partake can apply online. More information:

The Big Grill (17th – 20th August 2023)
The Big Grill team is returning to Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 this summer with a long list of chefs, cooks and restaurants from Thursday 17th - Sunday 20th of August 2023. The barbecue always takes centre stage but it doesn't stop with the food including the Little Grillers family-friendly experience on the Saturday and Sunday day sessions. Bastecamp demo stage, Brewcamp drinks tent, cocktail masterclass plus numerous restaurants including Reggie Does Pizza and Los Chicanos who are operated by Ballymaloe Cookery School graduates Reggie White and Scott Holder. The wildly popular Chilli Eating Challenge has returned and there is a busy line up. Great music and entertainment – not to be missed... More information:

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