Wednesday 22 May 2019

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Cork Independent

Bia Sasta

A celebration of a titan of Cork and Irish food

Wednesday, 15th May, 2019 4:30pm

It is not often that I can be dragged away from an episode of ‘The Great British Menu’, but when you get invited to attend the inaugural memorial lecture to celebrate the life of Mrs Myrtle Allen you make an exception.

The lecture coincided with the gifting of the written archives of Myrtle to UCC, spanning almost fifty years of writing articles, recipes and diaries. The event was booked out and the crème de la crème of the Irish food world was in attendance.

Rory and Fern Allen (her son and daughter), both heavily involved in Ballymaloe, spoke about their mother in such a loving way, ensuring that we saw the person behind the famous face.

Little anecdotes thatmade us laugh were told, like when she was writing a recipe she cooked until it was perfect which meant her family got it served about six times in a row!

Food giants like Ross Lewis of Chapter One spoke about meeting Myrtle when she started EuroToques in Ireland and shared his own admiration for this small giant of a person. He even created the term ‘myrtling’ showing that Myrtle foraged before it became a fashion serving it in her restaurant. You could feel the love for her from every word Ross shared with us.

John McKenna explained that Murtle Allen created the template for Irish food success while the grand dame of food writing, Claudia Roden not only shared her own food memories from her childhood but also how she met our Myrtle.

She reminded us that recipes are shared to keep people in mind and the story of people left in the past.

Regina Sexton, food historian at UCC, spoke about how honoured she was to be trusted with the archives and how she is looking forward to seeing it being used in future by students, scholars and historians.

I am sure some of the archive will be used during the Irish Food Culture diploma course, which starts in September.

Has Myrtle Allen created Irish food culture? You are forgiven if you yelled a big fat yes – she certainly started it and was a huge influence on food producers, encouraging farmers to create good and clean food that she could buy of them to use in her kitchen.

Ballymaloe today is still a great supporter of local producers and I am sure some smaller producers have only started because Myrtle and her family encouraged them.

Celebrating the life of Myrtle Allen was easy to do and sitting amongst people like Caroline and Eddie Robinson (Caroline started the Cork Free Choice Consumer Group many years ago), Justin Green of Ballyvolane House, Claire Nash, Isabelle Sheridan, Ruth Hegarty, Kevin Ahern, Avril Allshire-Howe (Rosscarbery Black Pudding), Pat O’Connell, Rory O’Connell, Ruth Healy (Urru) and so many more – it showed that Myrtle Allen meant different things to many people but all were united in the love, respect and admiration we all had for this small giant of a lady.

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