James Kavanagh is a long-time-long-field enthusiast. There is a certain innate satisfaction that is gleaned from gathering wild foods. In spring, its wild greens and more, in summer, its wild berries and more and in autumn, its wild mushrooms, nuts and, yes more. It is these wild foods that make up and add to, what is the uniqueness of The Strawberry Tree Kitchen for him and for us
Marcin Gruszka came to us in April 2005 from Dobra Limanowej in Poland. His contribution to The Strawberry Tree kitchen is unquestioned, but also is his European upbringing and his appreciation of nature’s wealth when it comes to harvesting wild foods. Just watching him gather something as simple as wild gorse flowers, for service, in his whites…has always given me a buzz.
Noelle Ward is studying a Degree in Health Promotion at W.I.T. and is with us during breaks from college. Noelle works with our second team back-house, they’re the life-blood of our kitchens, they get deep, down and dirty keeping your dishes clean and turning around pots and pans for the kitchen brigade, we simply could not operate without them. Noelle, though, constantly steps outside this box to help the chefs, tend to the Herb Garden and prep the wild foods that we gather.
We’ve all grown up with The Long-Field…City Folk see it as green ditches with no footpaths as soon as they have escaped the Urban, cattle and sheep view it as manna from heaven when they escape out on to it from their closures and Rural Folk are always delighted to inform fellow farmers that their stock has escaped onto The Long-Field and not their own. We’re beginning to suspect though that, now and again, an alliance of some particularly wily sheep, or a shifty mob of bovine malcontents; hold clandestine moonlit gatherings to scheme and stage a jailbreak. Unfortunately for them, forward planning is not a talent common to either sheep or cattle, and come sunrise the glorious rebels are inevitably spotted ambling aimlessly along the nearby country roads, out on the Long-Field, and are duly rounded up.
The Long-Field is the 327,258 km of common Irish grass verges and hedgerows. Our lush damp climate produces a stunning array of wild foods, from fresh spring herbs to September mushrooms. Right now, it’s berry season, and bright scarlet Rowans and fat juicy Blackberries, the perennial favourite, are closely pursuing the Blueberries of a few weeks ago. Elderberries and Sloeberries will soon burst on to the hedges in perfect time for game season. At Macreddin, we are always excited about any opportunity to gather our own wild produce, and at this time of year the Long-Field foods are plentiful.
As always, we’re keen to use our imaginations when crafting menu options from Wicklow’s wildness. Blackberry jam may be delicious in all its sticky glory, but we want more from our long field loot. This year, we’ve already made a Blueberry and wild Elderflower wine jelly, a Rowanberry stuffing in time for the first September grouse. Our elderberry jus will be a happy match for deep, gamey venison, and later we’ll make a potent sloe gin, deepening to a perfect pink by Christmastime. Nevertheless, we still can’t resist making pots of our hedgerow jams. This year, sugary elderberries will make a fantastic contrast to the bitter tang of rowanberries, bonded by the crab apples’ gluey pectin.
And so, as summer draws to a close, we’re out wandering through the Long-Field, gathering the county’s finest for our guests and, let’s be honest, for the sheer pleasure of it. Cattle and sheep might not make for the very best of successful fugitives, but they know where to find the good stuff.