It should go without saying that gardening is popular in Ireland. We have green thumbs after all. But what exactly do we grow? What vegetables, berries and fruits were growing in your great-grandparents’ gardens? While today, many Irish people plant a mix of traditional and more worldly crops in the garden, growing traditional foods is a fun way to get in touch with your roots. If you live in a wet, mild climate, you can probably grow most of these Irish standards.
Potatoes are the most obvious and also the most rewarding vegetables to grow. We became dependent on the potato not just because it is delicious and versatile. The humble spud is also very easy to grow here and offers maximum nutrition for minimal effort. Gardeners have so many varieties of potato to choose from that it can be a little overwhelming. But potato varieties can be grouped into two main categories – earlies and maincrops. The advantage of earlies is that they are ready to harvest earlier in the season when the risk of blight is low.
Root vegetables are popular in Ireland. Carrots are a staple of any kitchen garden here. Like potatoes, they are extremely healthy and versatile. Other Irish favorites are less popular in North America, including turnips.
The Irish were eating kale long before the rest of the world caught on. It’s a critical ingredient in colcannon. We were also ahead of the game with beetroots, and we’re just waiting for the world to realize how amazing Brussels sprouts are. We are aware we could be waiting a very, very long time on that one.
While we may be notorious for our collective dislike of spicy foods, we do embrace onions in their many and varied forms. For starters, any Irish kitchen would need to have a supply of yellow cooking onions, leeks and green onions.
Favorite Fruits for Irish Gardens
Apple tarts are a traditional desert in Ireland, so it makes sense that apple trees would be an important part of an Irish country garden. Most traditional varieties such as the Kerry Pippin and the Kilkenny Pearmain are not solidly red or green. They tend to be greenish yellow with reddish stripes.
Rhubarb is also popular for tarts, and an apple rhubarb tart with a cup of tea is the perfect Irish dessert. Technically, rhubarb is a vegetable, and once upon a time it was not unusual to eat it salted. But today it is far more popular to cook it with sugar and use it for tarts or jams. But remember, the leaves of the plants are poisonous. Eat only the stalks.
If you drive through Ireland in the summer, you will see roadside stands selling big, gorgeous Wexford strawberries. And an area off the Liffey right in Dublin is known as Strawberry Beds. So arguably strawberries are our most popular berry. But if you get off the road and walk down a boreen in the country side, you’ll see mile after mile of blackberries growing woven into hedgerows with many other plants.
Food is very primal way to connect with your roots. Why not enjoy the same foods your great grandparents did, while also growing them yourself as they did?