Apples have been grown in Ireland for at least 3000 years. Indeed, St. Patrick is said to have planted a number of apple trees in Ireland, including one at Ceangoba, a settlement close to where Armagh is now situated.
Early monastic records tell us that the monks were given apples with their meals, especially at festival times. The Brehon laws (originating between 2000 and 1000BC) stipulated that anyone cutting down an apple tree would be subject to a severe penalty; namely a fine of five cows, and even removing a limb or branch would warrant a fine of some sort.
Eating apples, cooking apples and cider apples are grown in Ireland and a lot of research has been undertaken to find varieties suited to Irish growing conditions. Nowadays the variety most widely planted in Ireland is the popular cooking apple, Bramley’s Seedling, (Bramley for short) which is mainly grown in Armagh, Dublin, Louth and Meath.
The South-East is known for its cider apples, notably counties Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford, while eating apples are mostly grown in the south-eastern counties (Waterford, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Carlow) and Co Dublin.
Different varieties are planted to mature in succession and will be found on sale at farmers’ markets, in farm shops and from some retail outlets from late summer to early spring.
Details of apple farms and farm shops are given within their growing areas in Ireland for Food Lovers, where you will also find information on speciality food stores and farmers markets; see also www.bordbia.ie for the current list of active farmer’ markets.
Although Irish apples are a delicious and versatile seasonal product with far more variety and character than many of their imported rivals, they are under-appreciated and not always easy to find as heavily branded imports dominate the main retail outlets.
A group of Irish apple growers who are trying to change this situation have banded together as Celtic Orchards; they are committed to grouping resources, abilities and enthusiasm, and selling the very best apples we can grow in Ireland.
This initiative is beginning to have an impact and, together with growing consumer interest in local foods and a wider product range – including speciality items like single vintage and sparkling juices, and a mulled apple juice (from Highbank Organic Orchards , in Co Kilkenny) - the future for Irish apples is beginning to look a lot brighter.
The three main ingredients in this recipe have been in common use in Irish kitchens for centuries and it still makes a delicious meal. Free range Irish pork production is increasing but it is slow to filter through to mainstream retail sales; a few specialist butchers stock it, but – like Irish apples - it’s more likely to be found through farm shops, farmers’ markets and online farm sales.
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