The people who grow Tenderstem® tend to cultivate a real love for it. If you’ve tasted Tenderstem®, you’ll know why! Grown in the UK and overseas we’ve sat down with a few of the local British farmers to have a chat about our favourite topic…
Andrew and Caroline Green
Meet Andrew and Caroline Green. They’re a husband and wife team to be reckoned with in the world of Tenderstem® growing. Whether it’s upping the ante from the first trial to cultivating a million Tenderstem® plants, or delivering the earliest UK crop, they have been there and got the T-shirt.
“It’s not for everyone,” Caroline says. “Tenderstem® needs a lot of nurturing in the planting but also in the harvesting – you have to do it by hand. We pick it every three days or so. A day over and it’s passed its ultimate tenderness, or worse, sprouted into a yellow flower.”
With over a million Tenderstem® plants grown in 20 hectares of their land, it contributes about 20% of their business turnover. And they’re not stopping there. They have previously used their innovative and secret methods to win the accolade of delivering the first English Tenderstem® to supermarket shelves. “I can’t tell you how we do it because everyone would copy us, and we don’t want that!” laughs Caroline. “Another Tenderstem® farmer phoned us to ask how on earth we got our crop on the shelf so early? But we wouldn’t tell him and we wouldn’t tell you either!”
Andrew and Caroline put the popularity of Tenderstem® down to how easy it is to use. There’s no core to cut out or any parts to throw away, they say. They also love its versatility.Caroline loves it steamed with butter, with a béchamel sauce or simply stir-fried. Andrew just likes Tenderstem® au naturel. “The stalks,” he says, “are delicious to nibble on, raw.”
George Read and his brother Vernon are totally passionate about producing the best quality crops at Staples Vegetables, growing a range of crops from cauliflower to courgettes, peas to potatoes – and one of George’s favourites, Tenderstem®. Over time, they’ve taken the 350 acres they started out with and increased it to over 10,000.
George has taken on the role of production director and his brother looks after the sales and marketing side.
They were first encouraged to try growing Tenderstem® by their customer Marks & Spencer and they’ve since had to increase their acreage to keep up with demand. George says, “There’s a demand for Tenderstem® because it’s got a better all-round flavour than traditional broccoli, beating it hands down in sweetness, which makes it a favourite among kids. And its convenience is important too. You can just take it out of the packet with no need to chop and you have a seriously healthy convenience food.” George himself likes Tenderstem® roasted lightly in the oven with just a little olive oil.
George has found that having a niche crop like Tenderstem® is the secret to success in modern farming. It may be harder to grow, and requires extra headcount to harvest, but it keeps him a step ahead of the competition. George has successfully started his first Tenderstem® crop under plastic in order to get the most out of the British season, which runs from June to November. Usually, the first frost signals the end of the UK Tenderstem® season.
Twenty years ago Nathan Dellicott was sitting, cold and miserable on a harvester in Lincolnshire, harvesting sprouts when he decided enough was enough, and it was time for a change. So he moved to Barfoots in West Sussex where he took a position as farm manager. One of the things he loved about his new job was an unusual crop they were growing: Tenderstem®.
There was no manual for growing it, no set way of doing things, so Nathan was happy to be involved. It wasn’t easy though. A technologist from one of the big supermarket chains came to visit and told Nathan that Tenderstem® couldn’t be grown in the UK. But it became a bit of a personal mission for Nathan to prove him wrong. He had to use all of his experience to overcome the challenges he faced, but he remembers those early days at Barfoots as a lot of fun.
And, as it happens, West Sussex, where Barfoots is located, is actually one of the best locations for growing Tenderstem®. The climate is gentle, with milder springs and autumns than most of the UK, meaning the season naturally lasts a little longer on the coast. The salt in the air is something Nathan thinks makes Tenderstem® from Barfoots so tasty.
Nathan has found a great way of cooking his Tenderstem®. “I’ve always loved it steamed with butter or stir-fried with black bean sauce, but recently I’ve discovered how good it is dipped in a tempura batter and fried,” he says.