How a Matriarch Produced Marvels with Moss

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Myrtle Allen, described in the Irish Times as ‘the matriarch of modern Irish cuisine’, died on 13 June at the age of 94. Christopher Hirst recalls how she introduced him to a memorable dessert that enshrined her culinary watchwords – ‘local, seasonal, organic, flavoursome, sustainable and superbly cooked’

My first visit to Ballymaloe House was maybe 20 years ago in the company of a dozen British chefs. Bought by Myrtle Allen and her husband in 1947, Ballymaloe became a celebrated restaurant, hotel and world-famous cookery school. The British chefs were awed – I recall one of them buying half a dozen copies of the hefty volume entitled Ballymaloe Cookery Course – but the object of their veneration proved to be diminutive and unassuming. In her gently authoritative manner, Myrtle pointed out a single item in the impressive buffet that would shortly be our lunch. Nodding in the direction of a bowl filled with what looked like a speckled blancmange, she said ‘Carrageen moss pudding – it’s really rather special. Made with seaweed picked a few miles away.’ I have never forgotten the distinctive flavour of this maritime blancmange, the only dessert to appear in Alan Davidson’s North Atlantic Seafood. You can buy dried carrageen moss at the Ballymaloe shop or online from the Cornish Seaweed Company. Remember to wash out the little shells lodged in the seaweed before soaking.

Myrtle Allen’s recipe for Carrageen Moss Pudding

Serves 4-6
•       1 semi-closed fistful (5g) cleaned, well dried carrageen moss
•       900ml milk
•       1 tablespoon castor sugar
•       1 free-range egg
•       1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or a vanilla pod

Soak the carrageen in tepid water for 10 minutes. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with milk and vanilla pod if using. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point and not before, separate the egg, put the yolk into a bowl, add the sugar and vanilla essence and whisk together for a few seconds, then pour the milk and carrageen moss through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture whisking all the time. The carrageen will now be swollen and exuding jelly. Rub all this jelly through the strainer and whisk this also into the milk with the sugar, egg yolk and vanilla essence if using. Whisk the egg white stiffly and fold or ‘fluff’ it gently. It will rise to make a fluffy top. Chill the pudding in the serving dish for several hours until set. Serve chilled with dark soft brown sugar, cream and a fruit compote e.g. poached rhubarb in late spring or  plum or apple and blackberry compote in Autumn
Picture: a basket of Carrageen moss