So I thought I’d show you some of the “behind the scenes” now that our programme has been shown on RTE 1 last Sunday. Below you can see the kitchen. It looks the part of a cookery programme, wouldn’t you say? But behind that corner lurks the messy business that is any cookery programme. You already get a hint of it as you look past the AGA. Once round the corner this is what greeted you during the cooking at Ballywalter Park:
I was very glad none of my corporate dinners have been broadcast. Well, actually I tell a lie, our very first corporate dinner ever was indeed broadcast by the BBC back in 2002. At least the focus was not on my cooking. Having Mind the Gap Productions here was a joy. They made the programme they said they were going to make and they were good to work with.
Now on to the food, and I should tell you we do have a series of menus that were served here at Ballywalter Park going back to the 1890’s. We have regularly used them for our corporate guests who get the picture and find it interesting that the food of our forebears is as delicious as it actually is. The whole series of Lords and Ladles has very much explored the old recipes and I salute that. However, I do think it is hard to understand the difference between dining a la Francaise and dining a la Russe. Before the invention of the stove all cooking was done on the open hearth and if you were mightily wealthy you would also have a fire bench. This is a brick/stone built structure about waist high with a stone surface, this has a few holes cut into it and a baskets suspended underneath each. Giving you a few places you could cook your sauces, custards and other more delicate things than the hearth could manage. So say you wanted to cook custard you could light some charcoals in one of your grates, when they were white a pot could be suspended over the heat while you made that custard or that delicate sauce.
Traditionally in Ireland most great houses would have served two courses of 7 dishes every day. Each course had a ‘remove’, this was the only dish which would come to the table straight from the hearth or fire bench. The rest of the menu would come to the table cold again and again, until it was either finished, not fit to eat or it could not be tidied up sufficiently to be sent up again. Not till we invent the cook stove in the 1830’s do we change the way we serve to the method called a la Russe. This means that each individual dish comes to the table in perfect condition straight from the stove. Most people imagine it took for ever to have dinner, which is not quite true, but food was part of the entertainment of any get together and dining included many ways for your host to show his wealth. If you wanted to be invited you needed to be very good at the art of conversation to be a sought after guest.
The food that was cooked by Catherine, Daniel and Paul & served by Derry was beautiful and it was, as Dr. Gilmore said, very theatrical and therefore entertaining. Our ancestors would not have had to hurry dinner so they could see the next episode of something entertaining. Any after dinner entertainment would have been someone gifted playing the piano and/or singing. Most of the ladies were probably longing to get out of their corsets if there was no dancing to be had. Lucky us, we did not have that inconvenience.
For us and our foodie guests it was a joy to try so many different and unusual flavours. It was an organoleptic celebration, which I did not want to end, but then all good things come to an end eventually. In reality we were quite happy to de-microphone and have a chat about all the subjects that had yet to be covered apart from food. Now, don’t miss Cappoquin House on Sunday at 6.30 on RTE 1!