The Irish Summer. You know when it is coming and you know when it has arrived. It is not the weather that indicates the summertime, that will remain as changeable as ever. The summer season is indicated by strawberries. Not the ever present ones in the shops, but the glorious seasonal Irish ones. I go overboard when they first arrive, bringing home punnets full, far more than we could possibly eat in their limited lifetime. Those not immediately consumued go into cakes, ice-cream, milkshakes, and popsicles.
The abundance of the Wexford strawberry sellers on the sides of the roads means it is the height of the season. With the recent good spell of weather they are ripening fast and furiously. These berries certainly do not last as long as the sprayed-to-death super-berries you'll find in stock all year round, that look like strawberries, smell like strawberries but alas, taste of not very much at all.
McCambridge's of Galway, serving Galway since 1925‚ onwards and upwards.
When the rest of the country is enjoying the Irish tradition of Wexford strawberries from the roadsides, the strawberry season in Galway starts with McCambridge's own berries, plump and juicy, grown in polytunnels in Furbo, west of the city in a walled garden, a stone's throw away from the sea.
Much more than a shop, MacCambridge’s has become part of the landscape. A busy grocers, delicatessen, off-licence and in recent years, cafe and wine bar, it is woven into the fabric of the city. They're from a time long ago when everything from salt, tea, and sugar were to be bottled, bagged, and weighed, wrapped into brown paper packages tied up with string. Salty butter arrived in barrels and were hand shaped into pounds and swaddled in grease-proof paper. Spirits and beers, similarly, were bottled on the premises. A time gone by when Guinness was hand pumped at the bar in the shop and served from wooden barrels.
McCambridge's has always moved with the times and, through many major renovations and upgrades, it still is as relevant today as it was then. The third generation of the Galway McCambridge family - Eoin and his sisters Natalie and Norma are now at the helm, working closely with their staff, leading from behind. And three of them are needed as the queues at the sandwich bar and on the stairs unto the restaurant will attest to. The outside seating on the sunny side of Shop Street is always filled, and the shop is buzzing with customers seeking an elusive ingredient, wine, or whiskey, not to be had from anywhere else.
Strawberries, tunnels, and kitchen garden.
The land in Furbo was once the estate of the Blake Family and the landlords in that area. The strawberries are grown in a walled garden which historically grew the produce for the kitchens of the estate house an abundance of vegetables and fruit. In the seventies and early eighties Pat McCambridge grew lettuce and strawberries to supply to the shop, but when his gardener retired it fell fallow for a time until another daughter, Patricia McCambridge, stepped in. The “green fingers” of the family, Patricia has a degree in horticulture and landscape design and took herself to bring the garden back to life. Starting small, the first poly tunnel went in. A few years down the road and the strawberries have been a magnificent success. Locally grown and picked by the family, their friends, and local kids. Some of the forth generation are now getting amongst it with Natalie's son, Marcus, earning his first wage packet working hard in the tunnels this summer. This year, and now with three poly tunnels, Patricia is expanding more into lettuces and herbs for the shop. She also delivers them to Galway restaurants including Kai, The Twelve, Mulberry’s‚ and, of course, McCambridge’s own restaurant.
Jumping on the farm-to-table ethos, and continuing a trend pioneered long ago here in Ireland by the good people at Ballymaloe, is typical of the entrepreneurial spirit of the McCambridge's. Long known for championing local producers, Irish meats, and cheeses, speciality teas, pasture fed poultry, and pork, rustic breads, they are now part of that story themselves.