Sharing Stories with Ireland’s First Lady of Food

Darina Allen shares her views on cooking

Darina and Myrtle Allen
Darina and Myrtle Allen

It was quite a thrill for me to visit with Darina Allen, Ireland's favorite food ambassador in County Cork, Ireland. I had the opportunity to eat dinner at Ballymaloe House, visit the family farm, gardens and the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Not that I'm that impressed with celebrity chefs. But Allen doesn't act like a celebrity. She is as down to earth as the farm she runs in County Cork. The students in her world renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School plant, pick and prepare vegetables from her organic garden.

"That way the students can have an appreciation for the food they prepare when they actually experience the process from the ground up," Allen said.

Allen, the author of 14 cookbooks, said that her mother-in-law, Myrtle, has been her inspiration. Myrtle Allen placed an ad in the local newspaper in May of 1964 inviting guests to dine in a country house. She opened up her home to diners and gathered fresh produce from the family garden. She bought meat reared by local farmers and fish freshly caught in the area. Then, she wrote a new menu every afternoon and served it at Ballymaloe House. The rest is history.


For more than 40 years, Ballymaloe House, has been a popular restaurant in Ireland with reservations made well in advance to dine there. The Ballymaloe House also is a charming country inn with daily breakfast included in the rate for guests. There are 33 bedrooms including courtyard rooms. Ballymaloe House is located 20 miles east of Cork City.


The Ballymaloe Cookery School was founded in 1983 by Darina Allen and is operated with the help of her husband, Tim, her children and other members of the family.

Students from around the world come to the school which offers more than 30 short courses in addition to 12-week certificate courses. The school is located in the middle of the family's 100-acre organic farm.

Organic Farm

Allen believes that the better the ingredients you use, the better the food will taste. The farm also has cattle, pigs, ducks and chickens as well as cows for milk and cheese. Students cook with the vegetables, fruits and herbs straight from the garden as well as meat, fish and seafood sourced from the farm and nearby farmers and fisherman.

Allen also has done research on special diets. One of her 14 cookbooks, she co-authored with Rosemary Kearney. It is titled Healthy Gluten-free Eating and is for those with celiac disease. The recipes are delicious, but you don't have to be allergic to gluten and wheat to enjoy them. Below are two tasty recipes from the Healthy Gluten-free Eating cookbook.

Breakfast Health Bars

Makes 12

  • 1 cup rice flakes
  • 7 ounces apple juice
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup plus one tablespoon soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 almonds, ground
  • 1/8 cup sunflower seeds, ground
  • 1/4 cup ready-to-eat dried figs, chopped
  • 1 /4 cup dates, chopped
  • 11 by 7 inch baking pan, lined with parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the rice flakes in a bowl and pour over the apple juice. Leave to soak for at least one hour, by which time all the apple juice should be absorbed by the rice flakes.

Cream the butter, add the sugar. Beat until pale, light and fluffy. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Beat together until combined. Fold in the apple-soaked rice flakes, almonds, sunflower seeds and the chopped figs and dates.

Pour into the lined tin, smooth the surface with a palette knife and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until pale golden. Allow to cool in the tin and cut into 12.

Store in airtight container and use within a week.

Frosted Lemon Squares

Makes 18

  • 3 /4 cup butter
  • 3 /4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 /2 cup rice flower
  • 1 and 1 /2 teaspoons gluten free baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 10 by 7 inch baking pan

For the frosting:

  • Freshly grated rind and juice of one lemon
  • 1 /2 cup of powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the butter, sugar, eggs, rice flour, tapioca flour, gluten-free baking powder and xanthan gum into the bowl of a food processor. Whiz together for a few seconds to mix. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared tin and bake for 25 to 35 minutes until pale golden brown.

Meanwhile mix all the ingredients for the frosting in a bowl. As soon as the biscuits are cooked, spoon a little of the frosting over the top at a time, allowing it to soak through before pouring on more. Leave to cool in the tin. Cut into squares.