We dabble in home brewed beer and wine – time and space and other interests currently keep us from wading as deep as we would like, hic. This was one of the reasons that a few years ago, we obtained some hop plants from Deacon’s nursery on the Isle of Wight . They’re almost certainly planted too close together (suggestions range from 1ft to 5ft – as usual it would seem that six inches of soil on top of pure chalk wouldn’t be top of their list of desirable homes either), but at about 2ft apart we still can keep track of which plant is which while we learn more about them. Cuttings are easy as they root like they’ve been taking lessons from bindweed, and we’ve been able to pass a number on to friends and other gardeners. We chose the popular varieties Fuggles (aha!), Mathon and Cobbs (types of Goldings, of which Mathon is supposedly more rain resistant).
We’ve had a couple of harvests of hop flowers (see above about hopelessly optimistic planting) and used them in beer. Mmmm beer. However, each year, you are only supposed to allow a few shoots to continue growing (one or two in commercial situations!) and the “hills” throw up scores of them. This I suspect is the reason that in times gone by, apparently the shoots used to make a regular appearance in London markets – when Kent and surrounding areas would have had a surplus of such shoots every year, it must have been a useful sideline.
As we are confident our hops are settled in, this year we’ve tried our first few hop shoots, cooked and served “as a side dish similar to asparagus” (a phrase which is only slightly less ominous than “may be used as a spinach substitute”). Wary, we doused them with butter – and were in fact pleasantly surprised. Although I’d say that the predominant flavour could best be described as “green”, there was no bitterness (which some sources warn of and suggest cooking in changes of water) and they were tender quite a long way down the stalk. I can see that if you were growing seriously they would be produced in such quantities that it would be very worthwhile to harvest and sell. Even on our home garden scale, they’re welcome as fresh greenery when a lot of spring vegetables are only just starting to get going.
If you’re unfamiliar with the different uses of hops, PFAF’s site is as always an excellent starting point: