Plugging leeks grown in Rainford

Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson - Credit: Archant

This is the time of year when this versatile vegetable is perfect for beefing up stews, soups and stir fries. Toma Sukyte reports

Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson - Credit: Archant

Eminent men and women have long puzzled over how the pharaohs built those pyramids – well, the answer might be found growing in the Lancashire soil. Leeks maybe?

Leeks at Maggots Nook Road, Rainford, with grower, Tom Wilson

Leeks at Maggots Nook Road, Rainford, with grower, Tom Wilson - Credit: Archant

These vegetables have been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Egyptians and historians believe they were an important part of the diet of slaves who worked on those huge monuments.

They’ve remained popular throughout the centuries. Physicians in the ancient Greece would prescribe the leek as a cure for nosebleeds (hopefully, to eat not use as a bung). Phoenician traders are said to have introduced them to Wales – this way helping to elevate this humble vegetable to national icon status.

During the middle ages, it was claimed that if a girl slept with a leek under her pillow on St. David’s Day, she would see her future husband in her dreams.

Today, they are just as popular although not with love-lorn girls or men with nosebleeds. Leeks remain one of the most versatile ingredients in a huge variety of dishes. Two of the world’s most famous soups, cock-a-leekie and vichyssoise, are based around them.

Like garlic and onion, leeks are a member of the allium family, but have their own distinctive flavour - quite harsh when raw (only very young leeks are eaten this way) but, when cooked, they are very delicate, like a mild onion, but with a hint of sweetness.

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Farmer Tom Wilson, who owns the family run business T. Wilson and Sons Ltd in the Lancashire village of Rainford, between Skelmersdale and St Helens, is one of the region’s top growers.

Tom said the demand is very good. ‘People are buying and using them more and more. The highest sales we get are in January and February when the weather is cold.’

His business has been trading from the current site for over 35 years, employing over 120 staff across the farm, pack house and distribution sectors.

Initially, they were serving the produce markets in Manchester, Preston and Liverpool. However, now they focus on retail, catering and wholesale market with supermarkets such as Aldi taking the lion’s share.

The farm plant various vegetables and crops, including carrots and cauliflower, on the 1.700 acre land. Of that, around 180 acres are just for leeks. According to Tom, the usual leek harvest is about 10 tonnes per acre and conditions this year have been particularly good.

‘Leeks grow very well in this black soil in Lancashire. The English season runs from June through till April. You’ll be able to get the best leeks during that time.

‘You should always look for a vegetable with a fine, firm white shank and then a nice green colour leaves. The green leaves are actually one the tastiest bits of leeks.’

Tom also shared his favourite way of preparing leeks: ‘Well, the best way that we like them is to stir fry them with a bit of red chilli. Always cook the leeks in olive oil and a bit longer before adding the red chilli in there. It’s absolutely lovely and you can’t go wrong.’

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