Growing up in Rush, North County Dublin, meant Summers spent working in the fields and glasshouses by day and evenings swimming in The Harbour.
The town of Rush is built on sand. For hundreds of years, this made it an ideal location for growing a wide variety of vegetables. Unlike clay, sand doesn’t become mucky after heavy rain as it does not retain moisture. This makes it easier to work with, lessens the effects of frost and allows for an extended growing season.
The arrival of glasshouses, in the middle of the twentieth century, allowed for a longer growing season and resulted in the widest range of vegetables in Ireland being farmed here.
Most of the growers cultivated crops both in the open fields and under glass.
This gave the benefit of farming the fields in good weather and the dry glasshouse if the weather was inclement.
The field crop was potatoes, while tomatoes formed the bulk of what was grown under glass.
The main variety of potato was Queens. Rush Queens have a countrywide reputation for the being best there is. The first batches would be sent to market in chip baskets, covered in potato leaves, which helped prevent their soft skin from turning green. The true taste of ‘Summer on a Plate’ had arrived: boiled Queens with a pinch of salt and a knob of butter.
As I loved heat, I really enjoyed working in ‘The Glass’ as it was called. There was immense satisfaction in tending the tomato plants as they grew from tiny seedlings, through producing the yellow blossoms and then developing fruit – green at first, then, over a period of days, ripening into rich red fruit.
There was always the anticipation, waiting for the first fruit to ripen, in early June, when it would be picked and ceremoniously eaten.
There is nothing nicer than to pick and eat a ripe tomato, straight from the plant, full of summer freshness.
Generally, just one variety of tomato was grown in Rush. It was called Moneymaker and it produced medium sized fruit, which was picked and sold loose, in chip baskets.
The expression ‘On The Vine’ was not heard of at this time.
The flavour was intense.
During Winter and Spring, tomatoes were imported from The Canary Islands, Spain and Holland. The flavours of the tomatoes, from these countries, seemed bland compared to those grown in Rush.
There were three people that I worked with, at this time. They were Pat Fynes, Kit Collins and Joe Landy. Each of these had a passionate love for the land and took pride in the quality of the produce they grew. They wanted the people, who consumed their tomatoes, to experience a taste, that would have them coming back for more.
What About Today?
While production methods have changed a little since those growers were working and some producers have increased their yields enormously, over recent seasons, I still believe that Irish tomatoes harvested between the middle of May and the middle of September, are the most flavoursome in Europe.
I personally believe that this is due to three things: the longer daylight hours we have here in Summer, the fact that temperatures are milder than most of Europe and the care taken by The Rush Growers.
This makes me wonder, why do retailers want to stock non-Irish tomatoes during this period.
Could it be that the people, who buy and eat tomatoes, need a little prompt every now and then.
That applies to all fruit and vegetables grown in Rush and throughout Ireland.
In the picture on the left, all of the produce, in the box, was grown in Rush and on the retailers shelf, within hours of being harvested.