Alan Pierce and Mark Winterbotham run Gold River Farm, just a few miles down the road. Gold River is a certified organic farm, supplying to us since 1999, and two acres of its ever-expanding territory are dedicated to producing fresh Irish organic strawberries for us each year. Alan’s magic touch ensures a huge crop every summer, and this time he outdid even himself.
Anna Gethings presides sternly over every dessert made for the Strawberry Tree, Armento, and all the Macreddin weddings. Anna is very bossy, super dedicated and totally in control, and her perfect puds make up for the fact that when Anna talks, we listen. Currently, with a new arrival on the way, Anna is taking a well-earned break. Enter Anna Woldan (yes, it seems all good pastry chefs carry the name of Anna) who has bravely stepped in to fill Anna’s formidable kitchen clogs.
Seamus Mulkern has grown up with Macreddin and Macreddin has grown up with Seamus. He does lots of things for you out front, but also he spends time in the background focusing his creative talents just for you to enjoy. One such is the annual preserving of the glut of strawberries into new roles, such as chilled fresh strawberry and black pepper vodka shots, and a new strawberry twist on the classic Bellini.
We’re a little sentimental here in Macreddin. We remember when Irish strawberries made a brief, but dazzling, annual appearance in mid-summer. It may only have been a cameo, but they stole the show year after year – that first burst of June sweetness was undeniable proof that it was summertime, and the livin’ was easy. Nowadays, we Irish have become too impatient to wait for the first taste of high summer, and our national obsession with importing means that we can buy strawberries all year around.
Not so here in BrookLodge. Our old-school organic strawberries are grown on Gold River Farm, tenderly raised by Alan. Unlike uniform supermarket strawberries bloated with water, these guys are pretty ugly, but ooze flavour, like Irish strawberries should. They live outdoors, like Irish strawberries should, and they have just celebrated their third birthday. Strawberry plants are at their peak at age three, after they’ve really had a chance to push their roots down (but before a string of failed marriages or a stint in rehab, sets in.) This year, it been Oscars all round – not only were our Gold River berries in their delicious prime, but Mother Nature kindly met us halfway and gave them some serious sunshine to bask in this summer. As a result, we had an enormous crop of big, fat, juicy fruits.
And so, for six or seven weeks only, we had strawberries plastered all over our menus. A sharp strawberry vinaigrette danced along our starter plates; a poitín and strawberry sorbet gave a serious kick to the middle course; our summer game, like wild pigeon and rabbit, flirted outrageously with a sweet strawberry coulis; and of course Anna has been serving up a whole host of desserts that would make any sweet-tooth weep with delight.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and the curtain has fallen on strawberry season for another year, or to be more precise 45 weeks. You might think that with a restaurant name like The Strawberry Tree that we should have more permission than others to serve ‘the strawberry’ all year round. Not so, strawberries were always a summer crop in Ireland and we think they should remain that way. The memory of their juicy sweetness will be enough to sustain us, as it always was, till next summer. In the meantime, Seamus (and yes he still has some strawberry and black pepper vodka put aside if you give him the password!) and indeed the rest of us will keep ourselves busy thinking up new ways to let these fabulous Irish fruits shine the next time they burst upon our stage.