“Such a bounty,” she says, adding that you don’t have to live on a farm — or even have a garden — to enjoy the rich pickings that are there for the taking in Ireland’s fields and hedgerows.
That’s one of the reasons the woman behind the award-winning preserve company Green Apron has written Fruit on the Table, a sumptuous, recipe-filled book — she wants to encourage people to grow their own fruit or, at least, to keep an eye out for what’s in season.
For her part, she’s always on the lookout for wild produce and has enlisted the help of an army of ICA women who keep her informed about anything wild that comes into bloom within a five-mile radius.
“I love acquiring — rather than stealing! — fruit from the fields around me,” she tells Feelgood, describing the abundance of wild fruit that will ripen in the hedges in late summer and autumn.
“Often the blackberries are the only fruit we notice and harvest. Let’s change that and start picking the sloes for gin, the hips and haws for jelly, the elderberries for syrup and the damsons for jam.”
Her recipes, which use everything from apples and courgettes to figs, gooseberries and rhubarb, have been acquired during a lifetime of living close to nature.
Most of her memories revolve around turning the harvest into food, she says. Her parents moved here from Detroit and, in the 1970s, bought a small farm in Co Clare where they were almost entirely self-sufficient, eating their own peas, beans, cabbage, carrots and potatoes in winter and getting through to Easter on their own apples.
Theresa went on to study botany and continued the family tradition of selling local, in-season produce. “If we can make it and turn it into something that can be put into a jar, then we will sell it,” she says.
She adopted a sustainable way of living, too, though says she drew the line at a composting toilet: “That was a step too far”.
She went on to set up artisan preserve company Green Apron on the family farm in Ballingarry in Limerick, which has since won nine Blas na hÉireann awards and seven Great Taste Awards.
They can’t keep up with demand for their biggest sellers, three-fruit marmalade and Irish whiskey marmalade but are constantly trying new recipes too. Look out for the upcoming carrot-cake jam and strawberry daiquiri jam with lime.
If you’re looking for ideas to turn whatever fruit is in season into sweet and savoury goodies, there is lots to inspire in Fruit on the Table: hedgerow jelly, end-of-garden chutney, beef with orange and kiwi and green tea winter warmer smoothie.
And don’t imagine you’ll never get a kiwi to grow in Ireland: “They are really easy to grow here. Who knew? We have about 1,000 kiwis a year,” she says.
She also managed to get a nectarine tree to grow from a pip in the compost and it now yields 50 to 100 nectarines a year. She says that should be a lesson to everyone to at least try to grow their own fruit and veg.
- Put it in growbags. It’s very easy. See how you go and then think about going further.
- Don’t get carried away and take on a big allotment. Work on what you can dig in a day or two. That is as much as you can mind.
- Consider container gardens — they are great.
- Keep varieties that suit where you live. I have a north-facing hill, so I plant earlier varieties of peas and beans. If you have a hot garden, you can plant later varieties.
- Buy plants and seeds from a trusted grower, not a supermarket or a gardening chain.
The main thing, though, is to get planting and enjoy the fruits of your labour all year round.