School Daze: ‘School was a horror’

Yasmin Hyde went to school in the 1950s, ‘when education was taught by fear’.
School Daze: ‘School was a horror’
Yasmin Hyde went to school in the 1950s, ‘when education was taught by fear’.

Eve Kelliher speaks with Ballymaloe Foods founder Yazmin Hyde about her school days.

My memory of school is shrouded in horror and fear: my school days were in the ’50s and ’60s, when education was taught by fear, though my parents did everything they could to help me, by moving schools and to private education.

I attended three secondary schools, in all, and spent one year teaching myself at home. I looked forward to going to my first secondary school, a boarding school. I was very soon disappointed: it was a miserable, cold place, with awful food, and the non-academic children were pulled around the classroom by their ears.

I was a conscientious child — never a bully — loved animals (particularly dogs and horses) and the outdoors.

My best subjects were maths and history. I always struggled with languages, but Irish and religion were my worst subjects.

Because I attended so many different schools, I had all kinds of experiences and met lots of different people, but it was my parents, who built up Ballymaloe House while I was growing up, who taught me everything I know.

I could give that child a lot of good advice, but whether it would be listened to or not is another matter.

Living in the country and not attending the local national school probably limited my circle of friends, but the ones I had are still around and continue to be my friends today; we had great craic growing up!

The best advice I got back then that you apply to my life today? Really, it was the example set by my parents and more so my mother: she knew her own mind and knew exactly what she wanted to do. When she opened the restaurant in Ballymaloe, she didn’t hire any experienced chefs, but taught local young boys and girls how to cook her way.

The teacher who influenced me most? We had history lessons given by the headmistress at my last school. She would bring us up to her own study, where we would sit around on sofas. She was a lovely teacher; always active, a good leader. She reminded me a lot of my own mother; she was elderly, but drove a snazzy sports car: that impressed me! What I would say to her today? I would say, ‘thank you’.

My first school disco was great fun. I was in a co-educational school (lots of lovely boys!) and I loved the discos.

Nothing in my life was ever planned. Thank goodness I didn’t know what was ahead of me! Thirteen-year-old Yasmin might say to me today: ‘Take it easy!’

My advice to parents and young people who might be struggling with the new reality?

Taking the best out of a difficult situation, home cooking offers wonderful creativity and good food for everyone, and now, as we enter the growing season, it might be the first time ever we actually have time to grow, cook, and eat our own produce. A child as young as four years old can help to mix the flour for a nice loaf of bread or cakes. Equip yourself with some good cookbooks or recipes from the Irish Examiner.

When my mother established the restaurant in Ballymaloe, in the 1960s, she developed her now-famous Original Relish recipe. The relish was made at the end of every summer, ready for me to bring back to boarding school, when the term began, in September.

After I got married, I considered starting my own business. I didn’t have traditional business experience, but I learned a lot from family. I quickly settled on the traditional relish as my first product and the decision was taken to initially concentrate on this one product. The rationale was simple: everyone liked it, and it had a natural shelf life.

In 1990, I started Ballymaloe Foods from my kitchen and for seven years operated out of a portable building.

I needed to expand production to a workable level, and I was the first person to apply to the South Cork Enterprise Board for support. From there, the banks got involved and Ballymaloe Foods moved from a portable building, in my front garden, to a new facility in Little Island. But the approach has not changed: produce good-quality foods, using traditional methods in small batches.

Family has always been a key driver for the company. Today, the company is run by my daughter, Maxine.

  • Yasmin Hyde established Ballymaloe Foods 30 years ago. She is the daughter of Myrtle Allen, the founder of Ballymaloe House.

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