We hope you have been enjoying our asparagus recipes – there are more to come, but today we thought we would introduce you to another grower.
It’s a brave woman who not only goes against her father-in-law’s advice, but also against family tradition spanning 150 years – but that’s exactly what Oxfordshire-based asparagus grower Julia Colegrave did, and came out on top.
Twenty years ago Julia, who had married into a farming family and decided to give growing asparagus a try. Initially her decision wasn’t universally popular, as she explains: “My father-in-law said to me, ‘I hope you know what you’re doing – you’ve got some of the best land there’, which did pile on the pressure but didn’t put me off.”
Thank goodness for that – twenty years later and Wykham Park Farm produce fifty tonnes of British asparagus spears, sold in supermarkets like Waitrose, their farm shop, local outlets and restaurants.
Julia knew from the outset that she was onto a good thing. “The first year we harvested asparagus spears it had been a wet spring and then an early summer, meaning the crop looked and tasted fantastic. I tied up five bundles and put them on a table at the end of the road with an honesty box to collect the money, and went off on the school run. When I got back three of the bundles had been bought – and the remaining two went pretty quickly afterwards!”
As production grew, Julia put up a small sign to let people know the spears were available, but simply couldn’t keep up with demand. “There’s a huge pent up demand for the first spears of the season. Every year we see the same thing – people really look forward to it, and as it’s such a short season we can barely keep up with demand.”
So Julia’s next move was to open a farm shop. As well as asparagus, they sell rare breed meats, such as Longhorn Beef, Gloucester Old Spot pork and even goat meat! The shop is stocked with delicatessen goodies, such as artisan cheeses, preserves and other speciality foods. And if that wasn’t enough, in 2012 they installed a kitchen in order to bake and cook dishes on the premises, using all their own meat, fruit and vegetables. Now her twenty-six year old daughter, Lizzie, is helping to manage the shop.
And her father in-law’s opinion? “Well I proved my point! Having been told there was no money in horticulture, I worked as a residential estate agent, yet my green fingers have led me back to growing for a living. Asparagus has always held a mystique for me. And it’s far more interesting than growing things like onions, potatoes or carrots where all the action goes on under the soil. With asparagus you can literally see the spears growing before your eyes.
“It’s a challenge and every year is different, but there’s so much promise in the buds as they push up through the soil. There’s something incredibly satisfying about the whole thing – planting it, watching it grow, picking it and then seeing it fly off the shelves.”
But Julia is not a fan of growing British asparagus at any cost. “I don’t want to see the British season extended unnaturally. I’d far rather people had a sense of anticipation about the start of the season than were bored by the fact that it’s available for most of the year. I know from experience that it’s the waiting that makes those first few spears taste so good.”
“I’m a traditionalist when it comes to cooking it too. Having tried hundreds of different recipes I think it’s best when steamed and served with hollandaise so it can speak for itself!”
Courtesy of British asparagus