Hampshire's local produce more abundant than ever
PUBLISHED: 15:28 22 August 2016
Nancy Judge takes a look at our premium crops that are ripe for the picking
Hampshire’s landscape boasts a patchwork of colour and texture. Its enviable position brings coastline, valleys, crystal-clear rivers, forests and a climate which promotes growing. Nestled amongst the idyllic scenery are crops which have a history in the county’s countryside and continue to shine as Hampshire produce.
Fields of Gold
Spring is here when the glorious rapeseed fields glow from across the horizon. The sun bounces off the golden fields lighting up the countryside confirming for many that Hampshire is one of the most stunning spots in the world.
Rapeseed has been grown across Europe for centuries but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the UK saw a big increase in the amount planted here. The growth was brought about due to subsidies being awarded to farmers for growing the crop after the UK joined the EEC in 1973.
Recent years have seen a trend for rapeseed oil in cooking with many top chefs advocating its unique properties. With less than half the saturated fat of olive oil and at least nine times the omega 3 levels it is undoubtedly the healthy option. Its high smoke point means it can be heated to high temperatures adding another dimension to the cooking options.
Charlie Gardner, owner of The Cold Pressed Oil Company at Clare Park Farm in Crondall, supplies many top restaurants with his oils.
“Just like wine each rapeseed oil has a different flavour. Our oil has a lovely nutty, buttery taste that sits somewhere between peanut and walnut which has proven to be popular with chefs. The type of soil, the amount of sunlight and the ripeness of the seed impact on the flavour.”
To meet the ever-growing demand, 300-350 acres of rapeseed are grown each year at Clare Park Farm which yields about 700 tonnes of seed. It is used as a break crop and returns to the same field approximately every four years.
Charlie explains what happens to the seed after it is harvested in late July.
“The seed is dried and bagged after harvest. In the barn we crush the seed using the traditional method of cold-pressing so that the oil is not altered in any way. We extract about 35% oil out of the seed which trickles into the crude oil tank. The remaining seed pulp is extruded into pellets and is then sold to a cattle farmer a mile down the road as a high protein cattle feed.”
The crude oil then goes through two filtering processes to remove the remaining seed hush. It is at this final stage of purity when the oil reveals its splendid golden colour which is reminiscent of the fields it grew in.
Visit coldpressedoilcompany.co.uk for recipes and stockists
There is no doubt that English wine is causing quite a stir on the global wine scene, and Hampshire is certainly at the core of this movement with award-winning wines being expertly made across the county.
The county’s terroir shares the same chalky soil as the champagne region in France, making it a prime destination for wine makers. The chalk is key to the growing process as it acts like a sponge for the vines - retaining water but also providing great drainage.
Whilst it has taken a while for Hampshire wine to be taken seriously, it is far from a new idea to grow vines in the county. In fact, Hampshire was home to the first commercial vineyard with vines planted by wine lover and Francophile, Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones in 1952 at Hambledon Vineyard.
The vineyard is now owned by an equally passionate wine lover, Ian Kellett, who was so inspired by its wine growing heritage, he replanted the vines in 2005. After many years of hard work and research Hambledon Vineyard is now producing award-wining wines under the renowned expert in minimal-intervention winemaking, Hervé Jestin.
With over 40 vineyards in Hampshire it is now a familiar sight to see the regimented rows of vines weaving their way over the hills. And a vineyard dedicated to ensuring they stay is Hattingley Valley Wines, which has just launched an apprenticeship to support the next generation of winemakers.
Emma Rice, winemaker at Hattingley Valley wines explains: “We’ve had an outstanding response to the UK’s first Apprentice Winemaker position in conjunction with The Vintners’ Company. We are in the process of going through the applications to find Hampshire’s next winemaker and we look forward to welcoming an enthusiastic person to our winemaking team. “
Hampshire’s vineyards hope to convince you to swap the foreign bubbles for the local award-winning alternative. It is a premium product grown and made on our doorstep that we should all be proud to serve and sip.
Now recognised as a superfood, watercress is regaining the popularity it enjoyed in the nineteenth century. However its health benefits are far from a new discovery, in fact, it is said that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, located his hospital next to a stream in around 400BC so that he could grow watercress to use to treat his patients.
Watercress was grown extensively across Hampshire in the nineteenth century with Alresford at the centre of the production. The crops were initially sent up to London via stagecoach before the introduction of trains, which soon become known as The Watercress Line.
Sadly towards the end of the twentieth century the demand for watercress declined as different varieties of salad leaves were imported. The Watercress Company (TWC) based in Hampshire and Dorset is one of the remaining growers of the crop and is determined to keep the county producing this heritage ingredient as Tom Amery, Managing Director explains: “We are proud to be continuing and growing Hampshire’s watercress industry. We recently invested in a new packing plant so that we can get as much watercress out to the county’s chefs and shops as possible to make sure it remains prevalent within the region.
“We grow the crop with spring water which ensures the watercress is bursting with vitamins, minerals and flavour. It really is a product which should fill Hampshire with pride.”
Gram for gram, watercress contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk and more folate than bananas. It has also been claimed to reverse signs of ageing in the skin and has been linked to cancer prevention.
Proud Hampshire producers are busy incorporating watercress from TWC and other growers into their products. Perhaps not so healthy, but every bit as delicious… you can now buy Twisted Nose gin, which is infused with watercress; there’s beer flavoured with it from Itchen Valley Brewery and charcuterie incorporating watercress from Parsonage Farm.
Discover more about Hampshire’s watercress growing now and then at thewatercresscompany.co.uk. Celebrate Hampshire’s watercress heritage at the very popular Watercress Festival held every May in Alresford, watercressfestival.co.uk. Visit Mid-Hants Railway to discover more about the journey watercress took to London, watercressline.co.uk.
In the nineteenth century the Hamble Valley was so well-known for its delicious strawberries that it was dubbed the ‘Strawberry Coast’.
The strawberries were picked by hand before being swiftly transported across the country by train. Swanwick Station was built with the primary purpose of taking strawberries to London by rail with over 20,000 berries loaded onto the train each day.
The Swanwick & District Fruit Growers’ Association was founded in 1905 as a co-operative organisation for marketing and the purchase of common supplies. The acreage of small fruit, which included strawberries as well as other fruit was recorded at 4100 acres in 1924. It was in the late 60s when the strawberry fields began to struggle as imported berries came into the country at lower prices and earlier in the year.
However, strawberries are still grown and enjoyed across the county. Many farms operate a pick your own and fruit is also available from local farm shops with many growers also supplying larger supermarket chains.
The New Forest Fruit Company grows up to 3,000 tonnes of strawberries each year which are sold to supermarkets. To enable a longer growing season their berries are grown under cover, making it more feasible to compete with imports.
Jackie Barr from the New Forest Fruit Company explains what makes Hampshire strawberries so exceptional.
“We have been growing strawberries since 1994 and have a range of varieties. We have a micro-climate here in Hampshire which gives them such a special flavour, along with our careful and attentive growing methods. Our strawberries are labelled with their origin so look out for them in supermarkets and help support Hampshire’s fruit growers.”
Walk the 15 mile Strawberry Trail from Botley to Netley to discover our strawberry growing heritage. Visit www.hamblevalley.com to find out more. Get in touch with The New Forest Fruit Company at newforestfruit.com.