Ancient Irish food… let’s not let it fade into the mists of time! There is a way we can bring back lost Irish foods… by growing them ourselves! Here are some suggestions for your garden.
Ancient Irish Food: SKIRRET
This little forgotten plant is also known as crummock or chervis. It’s such a shame this food has fallen out of use. Let’s all buy seeds and revive it! The best place hands down to buy the seeds are here – this website delivers heritage seeds all over Europe. You’ll get lost in the website looking at all of the heritage seeds you can buy to revive ancient foods. Skirret was a big deal before the arrival of the potato. Now, most people haven’t heard of it, which is a shame because they taste amazing.
As for growing skirret, the seeds, once they arrive, need to be sewn in spring, and they like a sunny patch and rich soil. They are hardy once they get growing and will grow to a height of 1.5 metres. The skirrets are ready to harvest in Autumn.
You can’t over-water this little guy, they love a damp environment, which is why they are perfect for an Irish garden. They become dormant in winter, but they are immune to the cold. No matter how chilly it gets, they always spring back to life in spring.
The reason farmers don’t grow these anymore is that they are difficult to harvest with mechanical equipment and don’t keep well after they have been dug up. So, they are perfect for the home garden, and a great novelty when people come over for dinner. They don’t need to be peeled, just wash and roast!
Ancient Irish Food: CROWBERRIES
The humble crowberry is a plant that you need to have in your garden if you want to revive traditional Irish food. In the cold countries of the world, like in the Arctic and in the Scandinavian countries, the crowberry is the third biggest berry crop after blueberries and lingonberries.
As a food though, it is almost unknown outside of these frosty locations. This plant produces berries that contain large white seeds and are a favourite food of bears. Lucky we don’t have any in Ireland anymore!
The stems can be used to make tea. The plant is a popular ground cover. It looks good in every garden because they are an evergreen plant. This plant is very hardy, so you probably won’t kill it, even if you are one of those people known to do that.
How they grow
Crowberry’s generic name Empetrum literally means “growing on rocks.” The plants are suited to open moist rock gardens or bog gardens. Tiny purple flowers appear in Spring. If you take a stem with roots on it from another plant, you can plant it in your own garden, and it will grow.
If you are growing the crowberry plant from seeds (available from a nursery or from an online shop) sew the seeds in Autumn. The main enemy here are aphids. Also, if you are growing them for their fruit, watch out for birds! They love the berries and will steal them in a blink of an eye.
These plants are fast-growing in optimal conditions. They require a lot of water, but in Ireland, we can always depend on the skies opening up. These guys love half-sun and half-shade, so against a wall is perfect. They also do well in pots and containers.
If you grow them from seeds, they can take one or two years to produce fruit. The fruit tastes best after frost. Crowberry is pollinated by bees, flies, moths and butterflies. While the crowberry tends to grow along the ground, it can get up to 30cms in height.
Ancient Irish Food: HAWTHORN
Hawthorn are at their finest in Spring, when the pink and white flowers burst onto the scene and let us know Summer is near. Hawthorn grows into large trees but can be used as hedging. The fruit are called “haws” and are used to traditional medicine to treat heart problems.
It is also said that they can help alleviate grief, too. If you decide to plant a hawthorn tree, it is said that they will only produce a handful of fruit unless they are in full sun. If you do manage to grow a hawthorn tree that has a lot of fruit, be careful of the thorns on the trunk and branches when picking them!
Hawthorns are very hardy, so every garden should have one. They like moist but well-drained soil. Hawthorns should be planted any time between Autumn and Spring. You can propagate hawthorns from seed. You will need to save these from the haws. This can take a ridiculously long time. You have to mash the berries, then extract the seeds, then mix it with compost in a pot.
You have to water it and love it and then after 18 months, the seed will germinate. Or, you could just buy a young tree in your local nursery. Some companies in Ireland now even deliver plants to your door! Hawthorn can be used to make jelly, wine and ketchup, among other interesting things.
And Finally: FAT HEN
Fat hen goes by a lot of names, including lamb’s quarters, melde, goosefoot, or wild spinach. All you need to know is that growing it is totally worth it because it passes the taste test with flying colours! It is utterly delicious! The young leaves and small stems are the parts of the plant that are the tastiest. But it is high in oxalates, so you can’t eat it endlessly when raw. Too many oxalates will give you gout and kidney stones. But cooking breaks down the oxalates somewhat.
You can also eat the flower heads too, they look like mini broccolini. Fat hen is easy to grow in the warm months. It will grow up to two metres tall in good conditions, but will also survive in the dry, neglected patches as well, so you are on to a winner.
If you have a spot in your garden where nothing will grow, buy some seeds online, and sew them. It will make an unloved spot into a place where you get a nutritious plant. If you choose a part of the garden that is lush, you’ll get a fantastic crop. It doesn’t need anything except a bit of water every now and again.
Like this article? Read more about ancient Irish food here.