UCC acquires archive of Irish food pioneer Myrtle Allen

It features daily menus and inherited family recipe books, with clippings of restaurant reviews and letters of advice to young chefs served on the side, all garnished with photographs and files reflecting her wide range of personal interests.

UCC acquires archive of Irish food pioneer Myrtle Allen

It features daily menus and inherited family recipe books, with clippings of restaurant reviews and letters of advice to young chefs served on the side, all garnished with photographs and files reflecting her wide range of personal interests.

The vast Myrtle Allen archive, which spans a century, has now been acquired by University College Cork (UCC) which it hopes will inspire and guide study on her remarkable influence on Irish food culture.

Ms Allen, the doyenne of Irish food and the woman who founded the Ballymaloe food empire, died last June, aged 94. A pioneer in Irish food, her approach changed the course of Irish food culture and influenced a generation.

She kept meticulous records which were stored in boxes and suitcases at Ballymaloe House.

Her daughter, Fern Allen, said the family is delighted that UCC has agreed to house the collection in the Boole library.

“It is wonderful to know that they will be preserved and stored safely and that they will be available in time for study and research,” she said.

UCC president Professor Patrick O’Shea said they are honoured to become the guardians of the collection.

Spanning over 100 years, the Myrtle Allen Archive is an insight into a woman whose ethos and approach to cooking and Irish produce would come to frame, structure and direct Irish food culture.
Spanning over 100 years, the Myrtle Allen Archive is an insight into a woman whose ethos and approach to cooking and Irish produce would come to frame, structure and direct Irish food culture.

“Her legacy extends far beyond our borders and across generations. It is fitting that these archives will reside in UCC, in a region that has a deep heritage in the craft and art of food,” he said.

The extensive archive includes Ms Allen’s handwritten daily menus, inherited handwritten family manuscript recipe books, correspondence with producers and chefs, restaurant and hotel reviews, and scrapbooks of traditional recipes sent to her by readers of the Irish Farmers Journal, for whom she wrote a food column from 1962 until the early 1970s.

It includes letters of advice she wrote to new chefs, drafts and proofs of her 1977 book, The Ballymaloe Cookbook, and documents and photos reflecting her interest in history, genealogy and travel.

It provides a remarkable insight into her relationship with food and into her ethos and approach to cooking and Irish produce.

UCC food and culinary historian, Regina Sexton, who has, since 2013, been researching Ms Allen’s work, said the archive will enrich her work further.

Myrtle Allen
Myrtle Allen

“What made Myrtle different was that she wasn’t swayed by outside influences but rather she aimed to validate the internal — she looked inward and strove to elevate what was good, home-produced food to such a high status that we could be confident in believing that Irish food was some of the best the world could produce,” Ms Sexton said.

Largely a self-taught chef, Ms Allen and her husband Ivan, a farmer and horticulturalist, bought Ballymaloe House in East Cork in 1948.

She opened a restaurant in the family home in 1964 — one of the first country houses in Ireland or Britain to do so — building its reputation by using top quality, locally sourced produce supplied by a network of trusted suppliers.

She won a Michelin star in 1975 — the first Irish women to receive the accolade and she remains one of just two women to hold the award in the Republic of Ireland.

UCC will also host the first annual Myrtle Allen Memorial Lecture tonight, with speakers including respected food writer, Claudia Roden, the Michelin star chef, Ross Lewis and John McKenna, of McKennas’ Guides.

In 2000, Ms Allen was awarded an honorary doctorate by UCC and earlier this year, the university launched the Food Institute to help link its food-related activity to the community.

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up