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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Delicacy gives farmers new hopes
Hop garden
Kent used to have thousands of acres of hop gardens
There are hopes that hop farming in Kent could make a comeback as the county's traditional produce is served up as a delicacy in the North West.

Hop asparagus is made from young shoots harvested in spring as they come out of the ground before they grow into the bines seen on hop garden strings.

The tips are steamed lightly and then served with garlic, butter or lemon.

The firm now distributing supplies to Manchester from Paddock Wood said the project was at "an experimental stage".

But fruit firm Norman Collett, which is working with two hop gardens in Kent - one in Marden and the other in Chilham, near Canterbury - has said there are hopes that the market could expand next year.

Managing director Andy Sadler is hoping to exploit recent press coverage after TV chef Rick Stein was named as a fan of the vegetable dish.

Health benefits

Suppliers are hoping the vegetable - now on sale in northern supermarkets - can find its way on to the menus of top London restaurants.

The dish, which is in season from early April until late May and resembles asparagus, has already won the support of scientists for its anti-cancer compounds.

And it has also been recommended by the East Sussex-based Women's Nutritional Advisory Service in Lewes, as hops are a source of phyto-oestrogens which can alleviate symptoms of the menopause.

Mr Sadler said he would not go so far as to say the latest vegetable trend could save the hop farming industry, but he said the move had brought useful additional income to his company.

Farming tradition

There were fears that Kent's farming tradition was coming to an end after a 150-year-old hop farm in Rolvenden closed last year.

Hops were introduced to the county in the 16th century and by 1724 there were 6,000 acres of hop gardens in east Kent.

Armies of temporary workers including travellers and people from the East End of London were needed to train the hops and pick them later in the year.

In 1983, more than 5,500 hectares of hops were grown in Britain, but by 2003, the figure had fallen to 1,200.

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18 May 03 |  Kent


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