OUR neighbour and very good friend Rob and his mother Lucille in Currabinny grow strawberries and raspberries in poly-tunnels on their land underneath the forest.
They had previously used bumble bees to help with pollination but being bumble bees they proved much too slow and clumsy for the job at hand, apparently they even had to bang on their hive to wake them up in the morning.
They eventually drafted the industrious honey bee in to get things done and in no time they were producing gorgeous, juicy, plump berries ready to be sold and sometimes gifted to greedy neighbours.
Difficult to grow, these berries need lots and lots of water and sunshine. An overcast or chilly week will make for very poor growth and then suddenly the warm summer sun shines bright and an abundance of berries ripen and droop, begging to be picked.
There are so many berries at times that neighbours and friends might be drafted in to scurry along the poly-tunnels, crouching below the raised, irrigated beds to gather mounds of them in wicker baskets.
Because of the weather last year, there was such a glut of strawberries coming from Currabinny, we hardly knew what to do with it all.
Luckily, a gorgeous bakery from nearby Carrigaline, Hassets, bought up most of it to go into delectable tarts, pastries and cakes. One of the bakers even became their beekeeper.
Our favourite way to eat berries is probably just on their own, or maybe with yoghurt or granola, anything simple where the berries aren’t fiddled with too much.
The recipes that we have included try and celebrate the berries’ flavours, unadulterated by too much fuss or frill – pureéd as an intoxicatingly good sorbet, baked whole in a kind of custard or just simply paired with cream and buttery shortbread.
Irish berries can be very good, always buy them in summer when they are in season. They freeze extremely well for use throughout winter. At the end of the summer months, jam making is a wonderful way of preserving them, your kitchen will be filled with the heady smells of fruit and sugar.
This recipe is based on a Simon Hopkins recipe where he makes a type of ‘clafoutis’. It is not a traditional clafoutis which is made with flour, but it is a sort of batter poured over fresh whole fruit and baked in the oven.
This version is sinfully sweet with a sort of custard infused with a whole vanilla pod. I like to add a little crème fraîche to make it a little less intensely sweet, giving it a very slight complexity. The raspberries themselves will burst in your mouth with a wonderful tartness.
Leaving the custard to cool afterwards is very important if you want to be able to spoon it out, otherwise it won’t set and you will be left with mush, albeit very delicious mush.
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
200ml of double cream
25g of butter
2 egg yolks
2 tsp of potato flour or cornflour
100g caster sugar
50g crème fraîche
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
In a small saucepan, heat the cream, split vanilla pod and salt until just about to come to the boil. Take off the heat and whisk lightly to shake out any seeds from the vanilla pod and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the pod after infusing.
In a large casserole dish, smear with butter and arrange the raspberries on the bottom.
In a medium sized bowl, beat together the egg, egg yolks, caster sugar and potato flour. Incorporate the infused cream with the crème fraîche until smooth and pour into the egg mixture. Gently whisk the mixture together until lightly frothy and smooth. Pour over the raspberries.
Place the casserole in a larger roasting tin, filled with boiling water at least half way up the sides of the casserole dish. Sift a little icing sugar over the top and place in the over for 40 minutes until it is starting to brown on top.
Turn the oven off and leave in the cooling oven for another five minutes, remove from the oven, take the casserole dish out of the water bath and leave cool for 10 minutes.
Sift a little bit more icing sugar on top before serving.
This is pure summery bliss. The perfect combination of lovely things, this recipe is basically just the bringing together of three flavours and three textures – perfectly simple.
The shortbread is made without any raising agent as I like a dense, short biscuit. The semolina gives you a slight crunch which is very satisfying. I like to marinate the strawberries in sugar and a little balsamic vinegar which will bring out the intense strawberry flavour like nothing else.
250g good Irish strawberries, sliced thickly
2 tbsp of caster sugar
2 tsp of balsamic vinegar
150ml double cream, lightly whisked
For the shortbread
150g butter, cut into cubes
75g caster sugar
150g cream flour
In a medium sized bowl, add the sliced strawberries, sugar and vinegar in a bowl, stir gently allowing the sugar and vinegar to coat all the strawberry slices and leave to marinate.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius.
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl, working it together with a wooden spoon until the mixture combines into a smooth pale paste.
Sift the flour and semolina into the bowl and mix together with a fork to form a soft crumbly dough.
Using your hands, bring the dough together, kneading it lightly into a smooth ball or disc.
Cover in parchment paper and place in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper into a 5mm thick round. Take off the parchment paper on top and cut biscuit size circles out of it using a biscuit cutter.
Place the biscuits on a lined baking sheet and prick each biscuit with a fork.
Bake the shortbread in the oven for 15-20 minutes until just about golden. Sprinkle with sugar and place on a wire rack to cool.
Spoon the strawberry mixture and whipped cream on top of the biscuits or between two biscuits and serve with good tea like Barry’s.
This can also be made with raspberries using the exact same method. The mixture can be pureéd ahead and put in the freezer. When you fancy some delicious sorbet you can take the mixture out, blitz it again in the food
processor to smooth it out and rid it of any crunchy ice crystals.
It will often be still frozen enough to serve straight away but you can refreeze it for 30 minutes or so to firm it up. We like to serve this just on its own in a little glass desert bowl without garnish or any decoration. The simple things are best in the summer.
450 g of strawberries
190g good strawberry jam/preserve (homemade or good quality shop bought)
1 tbsp of lemon juice
Pinch of salt
In a food processor, blend the ingredients together to form a smooth consistent purée.
Taste and adjust the lemon juice, salt or jam to taste.
Pour the mixture into a shallow pan, cover and freeze for 4 hours or overnight until hard.
Remove from the freezer and scoop the mixture out, blending again in the food processor to remove frozen ice crystals. Process until smooth and pale and return to pan and freezer for another 30 or so minutes.
If it is too hard, place in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving.