May 21, 2024

Fraughan fool: Ireland’s whipped cream and local berry treat

“I spent a lot of my holidays in County Kerry, but never came across fraughans over there,” said Claire. “I knew nothing until we came here, then, when we started to grow blueberries, people would refer to them. A lot of people have said they remember picking wild fraughans. A friend, a keen gardener, was walking the farm one day and spotted some fraughan bushes growing close to the blueberry fields, nestled into one of the old ancient walls.”

The Collins’ nearest neighbour, Peggy Cronin, lives on her own farm bordering Derry Duff. In her mid-70s now, she was born and raised in this isolated pocket of West Cork and remembers a much simpler way of life.

“She told us stories of walking to school over the mountains, coming home and harvesting vegetables or digging potatoes for dinner, and sitting to do homework by candlelight – it was a totally different time,” said Claire. Cronin fondly remembers picking the fraughans around hay harvesting time. “As children, they’d sneak off with a basin and fill it with berries. It was a great treat,” said Claire.

Few berries ever made it back to the house, as the temptation to eat as you picked was too great. Any berries that did make it back were turned into a simple treat with cream and sugar. Many who enjoy foraging for fraughans still like to eat them in this way, as a once-a-year treat during their peak season.

Sadly, there’s far fewer fraughan bushes today as hedgerows are removed to make room for more grazing space. It’s illegal to clear more than 500m of hedgerows in Ireland without oversight by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, but significant damage has been done nonetheless, and the hedgerows that remain are not always healthy ecosystems.

As a native shrub, fraughans make perfect hedgerow plants, especially in acidic soil areas where not much else can thrive. Their dense structure creates a perfect habitat for birds, insects and small mammals; the flowers provide fodder for bees; and its fruit is food for wild birds.

As hedgerows are damaged or cleared away, the prospect of the fraughan harvest diminishes with each passing year. The annual festival of Fraughan Sunday is observed in very few places today, and Lughnasa’s popularity relies on resurgent interest in old Celtic cross-quarter day festivals.

Back on Derry Duff Farm, the first of 13 varieties of blueberries are ready to crop in the second half of July, with harvest continuing through to October. By contrast, the short fruiting season for fraughans comes and goes in four short weeks – if the birds don’t get there first, of course.

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