My mission was to get a supply of, what is, probably, the fruit, with the highest content of Vitamin C and Antioxidents, of any fruit grown in Ireland -Blackcurrants.
Blackcurrants, particularly those grown in Ireland,also have an intense flavour that is pure nectar and is just not matched by any other fruit.
I missed the harvest by a week!
When I arrived at Des Jeffares farm, in Wexford, all of his blackcurrants had been picked, prepped, fast frozen and packed away in his cold storage facility.
Des has a unique position. He is Ireland’s only major blackcurrant producer. I had hoped to collect some fresh blackcurrants, but as Des explained, that because of the quantities involved and to protect the quality of the fruit,mechanical harvesting and freezing were the best options.
Harvesting takes place between mid-July and mid-August,depending on the variety and the weather conditions.
When the majority of blackcurrants on the bush are at peak ripeness, the whole field is harvested, in a single day,using special equipment. The fruit is then Individually Quick Frozen (IQF).
IQF preserves the fruit in peak condition and ensures noneof the flavours and nutrients deteriorate.This means that if you want to get a supply of World Class, Irish Grown Blackcurrants, they will almost, of necessity, be frozen but available for 12 months of the year.
Des supplies his blackcurrants to Jam Makers, YoghurtMakers and directly to end users. He also produces a sugar and sweetener free blackcurrant cordial, with a lusciousflavour and markets it under the Mr. Jeffares label.
He is, also, currently developing a retail pack of fruit,for the freezer shelves of the major supermarkets.
His website is also packed with recipe ideas for getting the most from your supply of blackcurrants.
I paid a visit recently to the farm run by Thomas Collins and Jim Carthy, in Rush, Co. Dublin. They have been working together since the 1970’s and having grown a variety of crops in the early years, now concentrate solely on cucumbers. Thomas & Jim are, probably, the largest producers of cucumbers in Ireland. Thomas gave me a run-down on their year.
The Production Year
After the last crop of the year has reached the final production phase, the glasshouses are completely cleaned out. All of the support systems are overhauled. Then new hydroponic packs are laid on the floor. Using these means that the plant roots do not need to bed in the soil and all the feed and minerals given to the plants travel through the irrigation system.
Due to the extra resources, needed, to bring seeds to suitable size for planting out, Thomas and Jim have found it more effective to buy ready-made stock from specialist nurseries. These nurseries exist to provide growers, like Thomas & Jim, quality certified plants, at whatever stage of maturity best suits that growers production schedule. This also allows them extra space to have a crop continuously ready for consumption. This is important, as the best growing cycle, for cucumbers, is to rotate with new plants, every fourteen weeks.
Thomas & Jim use a CO2 enhancement system to promote the growth of strong full-flavoured fruit.
This extra CO2, allows the plants, to use all of their energy, to produce their fruit and use less of their energy extracting CO2 from the ambient air. Plants, like cucumbers, need CO2 to grow.
Watering is carried out on a continuous basis using computer controlled systems along with the application of trace minerals.
The plants grow vertically for about 2 metres, trained on hanging cords. They are then trellised horizontally. This allows the fruit to freely hang, vertically, and develop to full maturity without obstruction. It also makes for easier harvesting.
Bug Control – Using Biorational Pesticides
One of the most interesting discoveries was that plant pests are controlled biologically, using predator bugs. Packs of these predator bugs are attached to the plants. Once they sense the presence of pests, such as spider mites and thrips, the predator bugs leave their packs to attack them. Pests, like these, can destroy a Cucumber plant in hours. Having taken care of their prey, the good bugs return to their packs to wait for their next meals. This process means that no chemicals are used to eradicate crop damaging pests.
Off to the Consumer
After ten weeks, the first cucumbers are ready for harvesting. Packing consists of simply shrink-wrapping, before labelling, putting into boxes and shipping to the shop, market or storage depot.
The question of using shrink wrap came up. Thomas insists that cucumbers will keep fresh for at least a week in this packaging, without the need to refrigerate. When using, only strip off the wrap from the section you are going to use. The remainder will happily sit in the wrap for another day.
The healthy, fresh cucumbers, should be on the shelves of the retailer next day.
I thanked Thomas and Jim for what was a very interesting visit
It was very interesting to learn that Irish Cucumbers are available from Mid February to Mid November. That’s a nine month season in which to buy Irish cucumbers! They are grown in a very controlled environment, in glass houses.
While other countries produce numerous varieties, with various colours, shapes and sizes, there is only one variety grown in Ireland. They are those dark green ones, stocked by every vegetable retailer and the darker the skin colour, the better, according to Jim. If the cucumbers are turning yellow, they have passed their best before date. Amongst the growers, they are known as ‘English Cucumbers’.
The ideal weight of the fruit varies between 300 and 450 grammes
95% are eaten raw, either sliced or chunky as part of a salad, or added to yoghurt or sour cream, with seasoning and/or grated garlic to make excellent dips or sauces. A suggestion is to serve slices in a bowl of cider vinegar, to be added to salads or cut into julienne slices and serve with dips.
The there are the uses of cucumbers as a natural beauty treatment. Tired eyes and dark circles under the eyes benefit greatly from about 10 to 15 minutes with a slice of cucumber over each eye. Purreed cucumber can also be used as a mild facial astringent.
Cucumbers have virtually no fat, are low in carbohydrates and have a beneficial range of vitamins and trace minerals. They have a high proportion of Vitamin K, which helps with bone strength. Remember, most of the vitamin content is in the skin!
I should mention the other variety of cucumbers eaten here. These are the pickled types, variously known as: Gerkins, Pickles and Cornichons. As these are not grown here is any quantity, but come here already processed, I will leave them out of this post.