cardoons, self-satisfaction & bitterness

Farmers have a reputation for unabated misery, with some justification. How often do you hear one pleased with the weather, the government or the price of wheat or milk? So on this gorgeous April morning let me just say that things are pretty good. It has been a near perfect spring, the winter was not so bad for most of us outside of Somerset and I’m exceedingly pleased to see the swallows return and call myself a farmer, even if I seldom get astride a tractor any more.

As I wander around the farm I tap into scenes of calm, well ordered productivity; be it splitting rhubarb crowns, planting tomatoes, courgettes or potatoes, everyone knows their job in our well choreographed dance with the seasons. How did we get here? The lost tempers, broken down machines and chaos that my demonic determination used to produce are a thing of the past. Instead we have a wonderfully skilled team and best of all they are, for the most part, smiling. I get a vicarious satisfaction from witnessing their progress across the fields but feel a little sadness not to be more involved. There is nothing like doing it with your own hands, but their hands are better than mine.

Fortunately I still have a small indulgence in the shape of two acres of artichokes and cardoons. They have yet to turn a profit, but in the year we have lost the cook and cardoon patron Clarissa Dickson Wright, I think I might have cracked it. I love the vigour and beauty of the cardoon plant, especially their flowers, but have to date failed to make the celery-like leaf ribs edible. The stringy bitterness has been too much even for me, but last week I tried a new variety sown last spring, and to my delight they were tender with the pleasantly mild bitterness of their relatives the globe artichoke. For Wash Farm customers with a penchant for the bitterness of endive and radicchio, a very limited number will be available on our extras list soon. Please let me know what you think; I might be tempted to plant more.

Guy Watson