September is harvest festival month. The full moon at the end of August was a powerful Supermoon, heralding the change of season and the gathering of the crops. In rural areas, many a household was kept awake late at night in the last week, by noise of tractors harvesting hay and silage, and grain crops, as busy farmers worked by headlights late into the night. They were making the most of the dry days, as according to the IFA (Irish Farmers Association) Grain report, wet weather in late August delayed the harvesting of crops. Figures at that time suggested that anywhere between 20% and 50% of the harvest was complete, depending on where the farms were in the country.
Smallholders around Ireland have also suffered from an inclement summer. Tomatoes that would have ripened to perfection in August, had there been consistent sunshine, are still hanging green on the vine. There may be a lot of green tomato chutney being produced by our specialist preservers this year! Those which were available though were sweet and juicy and in great demand at farmer’s markets and farm shops. Tomatoes are the food of summer, and eaten in season, there is not much to beat the taste of a ripe Irish grown tomato. Except perhaps, a ripe Irish grown strawberry!
But all these foods are now being replaced by the produce of autumn and winter. Parsnips, carrots and turnips will be coming into their own, for roasted root vegetable side dishes, gratins and smooth velvety soups. We have already tried the first Kerr Pink potatoes of the autumn season, and they are delicious! A little celery is also around, though many say it isn’t at it’s best until it has seen it’s first frost, which crispens it up. We hope it won’t be frosty at night quite yet! Irish spinach is still around, as are beetroots. You may find the last of the homegrown scallions, and some Irish leeks coming on stream. These can be used in soups and risottos. Ireland has some sweetcorn growers too, and this is now available. Whole fresh heads of golden sweetcorn cobs are tender and juicy. All they need after cooking is a good knob of Irish butter to melt on top!
In fruit terms, the berries of summer are all but gone – except for a few strawberry growers who have managed to extend their season till autumn. We have very much enjoyed this year’s soft summer berries in a variety of ways, and we are sorry to see them go. But as with all seasonal eating, there is always something to take their place. We are waiting for the next big fruit of the year to come through. Irish apples will be in the shops in the coming weeks. Look to our apple growers like The Apple Farm, Highbank Orchard, Ballycross Apple Farm, Llewellyn Orchard Produce, Dj’s Juice and Cider and the Armagh Cider Company who will be making the most of this year’s apple crop for their wonderful fresh juices, craft ciders and spirits, and cider vinegars. The Apple Farm will also be selling the fruit whole and fresh in the farm shop on site. There may be some pears coming on board soon from Irish growers. These however are in very limited supplies and will be snapped up as soon as they arrive! Look in your nearest farm shop if you want to stand a chance of getting some homegrown pears – they are not grown in large enough quanitites to be available in big commercial outlets.