Strutting cocks and thrusting spears . . .

Sierra Exif JPEGA cock’s a-doodle-dooing, tail-feathers waving as he struts his stuff.

‘Look at me!’ he signals, to the world of hens.

Chubby grey guinea fowl scurry around as one, moving hither and thither, to no apparent purpose. Like a cloud blown by a changeable wind.

You can almost hear a heat haze. You know that sound, don’t you? Nothing – but something.

I tear myself away from the tall trees, rustling a subtle rustle in the stillness. ‘Shouldn’t there be a breeze?’ they’re saying. Used to the storms and downpours of this long, dreary winter they’re moving, despite themselves.

But best get on. I’m here to make a purchase.

Not a guinea fowl. Not a chicken. Not an egg.

Sparrow grass, that’s what I’m after.  Tasty, fat, thin, sandy sparrow grass. Luscious spears of green, thrusting through the sandy soil. Cut off in their prime, before they have a chance to turn into the delicate ferny fronds that nature intended.

Special asparagus cutting tool

Special asparagus cutting tool

Roger, tall – and weather-beaten from harvesting – chats to a man who’s leaning on a ‘real’ Land Rover. The kind that should have a nervous sheepdog in the back, desperate to herd us. Or a Jack Russell in the front, surveying the world from her two-pawed dashboard perch or sniffing nosily at strangers through the open window.

‘I like your Land Rover,’  I say. Can’t help it. Always one for the blindingly obvious, me.

‘Aye. She’s for working. I need her, not like these forbifors. She has to go off road in all weathers. And not for fun.’

Turns out he’s a gamekeeper. Looking for a crown. Of asparagus.

For fun.

‘I’m not interested in farming it. I’ll come here and buy it, even if mine grows. Best in the country, this is.’

By the time we leave he’s promised us pheasant, partridge and – if we’re very, very lucky – grouse. In season, of course. And possibly plucked.

Phew. A vivid memory, that. Anthro-man, newly a PhD, desperate to earn a crust, tries turkey plucking. Two days of misery, feathers and blood and he’s never eaten turkey again. (And he didn’t get paid.)

‘They’re the best, grouse,’ says the keeper of game, having spared us the trauma of future plucking. ‘But hard to come by, here. Yorkshire’s the place. And it all depends on the weather. The flies.’

A cold week ahead will spell doom for the flies.

Doomed flies means starving chicks.

You can guess the rest. That’s nature.

I make a silent request of the weather god. Keep calm, please, for a little while, for the flies’ sake. No tantrums with your rain, or wind, or snow. We deserve it, you know.

And so we let him go, Mr Gamekeeper, in his beautiful Landy.

I buy some sprue and super-fat stems.

Roger demonstrates cutting

Roger demonstrates cutting

‘How long’ve we got, this year?’ I ask Roger.

‘June 21st.

‘Same as last year?’

Nod. He’s sparing with words.

So, despite the late start (your fault, weather god – you listening?) the season ends the same time.

Tough business, asparagus farming.

Tough business gamekeeping.

Why are we drawn to these things? Because they’re real? Because they’re such a relief after the keyboards, screens and traffic, the washing lines and chimneypots?

Minutes later we’re back on the road in L. The postcode for Liverpool.

Who’d a thought it?

What a wonderful world it is, on a sunny day, on the asparagus farm, in Formby. Near Liverpool.

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14 Responses to Strutting cocks and thrusting spears . . .

  1. Beth says:

    Asparagus NOW

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  2. EllaDee says:

    I’ve ventured and experienced many things in my life but I’m drawn back to what you describe, a seasonal, real world where pleasures are of the senses, simple and true, not measured in dollars and saleability.

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  3. mud4fun says:

    “Never too late, Ian. Glad you both found something in it.”

    It was a lovely post and despite me dropping in from a Land Rover tag search my wife and I grow our own vegetables so the fresh asparagus was simply icing on the cake and very relevent to me 🙂

    Also, when I moved out of home the first place I rented was a tiny little terraced cottage in a row of ex-minor cottages in a very rural area next to the old open cast mine. My next door neighbour was a gamekeeper on the local estate. It was he that taught me to prepare wild food (mostly game) and it was this experience that led to me having a deep love for the outdoors and good fresh food. Eventually I bought an old semi-derelecit cottage also in a rural area that I renovated and as it had a large garden we now have space to grow most of our own vegetables. As soon as you start growing vegetables you achieve a far closer relationship with mother nature than anybody that simply buys from the shops as you become intimately aware of the weather, seasons and of how every single animal and insect forms an important part of the eco system, even the wasps and slugs! 🙂

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    • Ah, what a wonderful response! My dad moved to a tiny cottage when he retired and grew vegetables and fruits, my first real encounter with growing food to eat. He used to get really annoyed wiht me when putting up the fruit cage each year. I have in the past moved a lot and sometimes had large gardens attached to tiny cottages and grown vegetables and fruit, though not very well. Now I have three pear trees, two apple trees and a gooseberry bush in a really small garden and love growing flowering things. But growing things is just so wonderful, wherever or whatever. Even if just on windowsills. I stll can’t love slugs or earwigs though…

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  4. Ann says:

    As a 70 year old Formby asparagus lover, whose father worked on an asparagus growing farm in Formby, I dont quite get the picture of the extreme hard work involved during the six weeks of May and June as I remember it. Pleasant thoughts but doesnt quite do justice to the eagerly anticipated arrival of the tasty spears.

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    • Hello Ann, the piece was really about my ‘towny’ feeling on being at the farm, rather than the actual asparagus, which is ‘the best in the country’ I agree as the gamekeeper said. And as for the hard work, I did say: “So, despite the late start … the season ends the same time. Tough business, asparagus farming.”
      I can see it is very hard work indeed. I hope you enjoy plenty of the tasty spears before 21st June . . .

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  5. mud4fun says:

    I think most of the population has now lost touch with an important part of their foods production and that is the seasonal aspect.

    Just like your asparagus, we especially look forward to the arrival of our sweetcorn in late summer. We don’t grow many, at most 40 plants (upto 80 cobs) and they all have to be eaten in a short time. The fact that they are only available for such a short period each year adds to the pleasure for us and while I consider myself an athiest with regard to modern religion, I certainly feel a sense of spiritual well being or even ritualistic pleasure when we eat the first cobs of the season. 🙂

    Too many people these days buy food in supermarkets that are grown worldwide and are thus available out of the normal UK season, their food is almost season-less and I now feel that a vital link to nature has been lost somewhere. This is just my opinion of course and even that has only come about after so many years of growing our own food. It wasn’t that long ago that I was happily munching asparagus year round and never even thinking where in the world it came from and whether it was in season or not!

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    • I had the most amazing strawberry one day last summer and almost felt a pang of pain – how many children know what a really ripe anything tastes like? Won’t say more as it may be a blog but just – greengages. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

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      • mud4fun says:

        Thankfully our young daughters have grown up surrounded by fresh vegetables and fruit and are quite used to picking things like peas and strawberries straight off the plants to have as snacks. They love it when the peas are ready for picking as they get to pod them and eat the peas raw within seconds of picking when they are super sweet. 🙂

        It also means they aren’t too bothered that my wife and I don’t let them have lots of sweets, crisps and biscuits. They can have as much fresh veg and fruit as they want.

        It is sad though when they have birthday parties and invite their school friends over. My wife puts out plates of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, strawberries, olives etc as snacks which our girls adore but many of the other children don’t touch them preferring the unhealthy options. We’ve even had some children inform us that they have never tasted things like cucumber before – I don’t think they were telling us fibs either!

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  6. been dilly-dallying on my plan to plant greens in our yard (again) for like three years already. now, you’re reminding me to get serious, haha. asparagus from the supermarket – tastes just as well. but should feel like planting them yourself again and gamekeeping as well, ah, i’d be more than happy to read your refreshing account. 😉 so fun to read here. heap of thanks… 🙂 warm regards…

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