It’s the berries
Berries of many kinds have been on the Irish dessert menu for centuries, if not millennia. Blackberries, along with raspberries, fraughans and wild strawberries, were here from the time when this island was still part of the main European continent, and they turn up in Irish food poetry as long ago as the 8th century. In the case of strawberries in particular, the larger cultivated varieties were probably brought here from England and France in the 1600s.
The strawberry season in Ireland for these cultivated varieties used to be painfully brief, lasting only weeks. There would come a magic time from about mid-June to mid-July when every major road in the country featured parked cars or trailers with hand-drawn signs offering locally grown strawberries. Additionally, some parts of the country would hold strawberry festivals at the height of the season, such as the one held yearly in Enniscorthy. But then, when the brief season was over, everyone was left pining for berries they wouldn’t see again for a year.
Slowly, though, local farming families began to wonder why this well-loved Irish fruit couldn’t be available for much longer. Local growers began to invest in protected-framing methods — growing the Wexford and Wicklow strawberries in polyvinyl greenhouse tunnels and industrial-sized glasshouses. With this innovation — by which the local strawberry’s season now stretches from April to November — and with strawberries imported from elsewhere in Europe and Africa, the season is nearly year-round.
Our strawberry shortcake recipe is typical of what an Irish cook might make when the berries are in season — and at least partly in reaction to the convenience-food versions of strawberry shortcake that are increasingly turning up in supermarkets here all year round, with bases of some conventional soggy spongecake. The base of ours is much like a biscuit or scone, being very light and crumbly, and is lightly sweetened so as not to detract from the natural sweetness and flavor of the strawberries.