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Cultivated since ancient times, the best-known citrus fruits are the oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes and tangerines. Citrus plants hybridise easily and kumquats are among the many related fruits. The trees and shrubby plants are sensitive to cold but can be grown here fairly successfully in tubs if they are given protection in winter.
Under rated for decades, root vegetables - broadly categorised as plants with edible underground parts, but most often referring to those with tap roots and tuberous roots such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes - have been the mainstay of traditional northern European diets for many centuries.
As much a part of our Christmas as the turkey or the plum pudding, cranberries are borne on evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines (subgenus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium). A major commercial crop imported from North America, they thrive in acidic bogs and the sharply flavoured red berries have antioxidant qualities which have led recently to their reputation as a ‘superfruit’.
Closely related to the carrot, this creamy coloured root (Pastinaca sativa) has been used as a vegetable since antiquity and was cultivated by the Romans. Like carrots, parsnips are valued for their natural sweetness and they are a good source of antioxidants and dietary fibre, and also high in vitamins and minerals, notably potassium.
Weather conditions in the late summer and early autumn this year have been ideal for fungi, which are prolific everywhere in our hedgerows, fields and woodlands, often well ahead of their normal season.
Prunus domestica is a group of hardy trees and shrubs which bear edible fruits containing stones; the type generally grown in Britain and Ireland is a cross between a sloe and a plum. Gages, which are similar (and have excellent flavour), tend to need more favourable growing conditions.
Eggs are synonymous with spring and they’re Nature’s convenience food - perfectly packaged and always accessible. They’re also highly nutritious (a concentrated source of protein with a wide range of vitamins and minerals), great value and the most versatile food imaginable.
Wild herbs and edible flowers are a great addition to any kitchen and Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle devote a chapter of ‘Wild Food’ to these charmingly pretty and colourful foods.
Wild Primrose (Primula vulgaris *Irish sabhaircin) and Wild Sweet Violet & (Viola odorata * Irish sail-chuach chumhra) are low-growing, common and easily found in woodland, hedgerows, and banks in spring and summer time. Violet leaves are almost evergreen while the primrose dies back after flowering.
Although usually used in sweet dishes, rhubarb is not a fruit but classed as a vegetable. It grows easily in Ireland and is still a familiar feature in gardens all over the country. It dies down in winter and now, as it begins to re-emerge for the new season (later than usual this year, due to the prolonged cold weather over the winter), the new stalks will be at their pinkest and most tender.
With pretty coloured shells, Palourde clams, tapes semidecussatus, are also known as ‘carpetshell’ or ‘Manila’ clams, and were introduced to Ireland in the early 1980s. Since then palourde clams have been farmed here in places with the required sandy beaches, notably in Co Sligo and Kerry. Although there is a wild native Irish relative (the ‘White Palourde’), the farmed variety is the one most often see in Irish fish shops.