Jennie’s Chelsea friends were horrified and asked her “why are you going to Cornwall, the average age is over 180?!” Of
course the journey luckily had improved from Daphne Du Maurier’s time of 46 hours from London, for the postal coach journey, to just
under 6 hours, or she simply might never have gone to the county of smugglers and wreckers. She admits with a twinkle that her husband, one of the most dashing men of the day,
was more than worth giving everything up for to take on this bleak existence, and you can see to this day how he has kept her totally
captivated. As a mother of eight and grandmother
of fifteen she has not had a moment to think about her golden years in the London Studios.
Tregassow means ‘beside a wood town’ and the farm celebrates its woodlands, both ancient and planted. Establishing themselves
as a premium grower of asparagus over the last two decades has been an exciting adventure from the existing traditional farming of
55 years ago. It has been a huge success despite early challenges such as wire worm attacks on the crop and poor establishment. Customers
include local farm shops, top London hotels and restaurants along with big wholesalers countrywide. Their Truro and Falmouth Farmers'
Market stalls are a vital part of the enterprise, acting as their shop front. "It is wonderful to come back to the market year after
year," says Jennie. "We meet customers old and new and it is very satisfying to hear direct feedback from people who love the quality
and special seasonal appeal of our asparagus". You can meet John and Jennie at the asparagus markets, purchase their fresh asparagus
and you can even enjoy an asparagus talk with the Keelers, sharing tips and techniques for growing, cutting and cooking this fantastic
seasonal ingredient at home.
Did you know that there are many fascinating facts about this succulent flower, that has become known
as a vegetable, comes from a variety of 300 species in purple, white or green or something in-between? The name comes from classical
Latin asperge and it is a member of the lily family and was used in ancient Greek times to treat liver and kidney disorders and also
has a reputation to arouse. Elsewhere American Indians dried it for medicinal use, especially for its diuretic properties. Nicholas
Culpepper the famous herbalist, 1616 -1654, said asparagus “stirs up lust in man and woman” and that wasn’t just because of its shape.
Romans grew it widely and Pliny mentions it as growing in Ravenna in 200 BC, whilst Emperor Caesar Augustus, when inspiring his troops
to make haste, coined the phrase “do it quicker than you can cook asparagus.”
As I stare at the sprawling mass of brown, dry looking
roots, it seems unfeasible that, if replanted, up to 20 bright green asparagus spears could emerge from within that crown but only
if the Cornish weather does not throw a wild card. When I first met farmers, John and Jennie Keeler in early April, Cornwall's asparagus
season had not started as they were waiting for just a few days of sunshine and warmth to unleash life beneath the soil. When asparagus
does arrive, it has to be harvested daily, if the weather is good, and this has to be done by hand to accurately pick the right spears
without damaging others not yet ready. "It is not an easy crop to grow," admitted John, "You've got to love it. The crowns can rot
if they sit in water, there are diseases, problems with slugs, wire worms – even two specific types of asparagus beetle that resemble
elongated ladybirds.” The key, of course, to their success is old fashioned hard work and what Jennie has coined as his catchphrase
“He can’t hang about” as John is always on it, trying to make it work whilst weaving his way around the latest Labrador puppies and
grandchildren to get back on the farm.
“When good British asparagus is in season there is absolutely
nothing like it.” Jamie Oliver
Tregassow Manor Farm, St Erme, Truro,
Cornwall, TR4 9BL.
Tel: 01872 520223. Cornishtregassowasparagus.com
John and Jennie Keeler
Tregassow Manor Farm,
St Erme, Truro,
Cornwall, TR4 9BL.
Tel: 01872 520 223.
Business Development and
John and Charles Keeler
Mobile: 07971 808 143
L e t ' s g o f o r a C o r n i s h !