It's been a pretty cool spring so far, and the hops have been reluctant to show themselves too early as a result; the shoots are a week or so late in emerging from the ground. They are here now and, before they get sprayed, we have an opportunity to get into the gardens and pick bagfuls of them for the dinner table.
Hop shoots, you see, are a culinary delicacy, revered in the England of the past, and still vaguely remembered in Belgium and Italy. Picking them is thankless and back breaking and, in the absence of any automation, this makes them extremely expensive and consequently rare.
However, Ross Hukins of Haffenden Farm has invited us over next week to fill our boots, so long as we provide all the labour. I've never eaten Risotto di bruscandoli, or any other hop shoot dish, but I would certainly like to. And I like the idea of my favourite Kentish restaurants offering this very local, very seasonal, and very rare vegetable for one week a year, just to remind us all of where we live, if for no other reason.
So I'm off to Haffenden on Wednesday morning armed with suitable clothing, a sharp knife and some sacks to see what all the fuss is about. I'll even take a small stove, a pan, some butter, a bit of wild garlic and a bottle or two of beer to do a bit of Keith Floyd style in-the-field cooking. Hopefully I'll harvest vast quantities and spend Wednesday evening distributing them to the top Chefs in the area
If you live in East Kent and fancy joining me please drop me a line soonest - the more, the merrier.