H & P Ascroft - Lancashire's prize cauliflower grower
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 June 2017
For some it is a newly hailed superfood. But Peter Ascroft and his family have been extolling the virtues of cauliflower for decades. Emma Mayoh reports.
Look in any food magazine or recipe book, in a Sunday broadsheet or listen to the chatter of celebrity chefs and you’ll see there’s a buzz about cauliflower. Heralded as the latest superfood – just as good as kale, you see – cauliflower is experiencing a renaissance.
From cauliflower chopped into tiny parts as rice or used as a pizza base to full heads laced with exotic spices and roasted whole, the cauliflower is very much in fashion. Recent studies have shown the humble vegetable has just as many health benefits as more well-known superfoods. It’s packed with vitamin C, has only a trace of fat, sodium and sugar and is know for health benefits including reducing cancer to boosting brain power. It’s newly-discovered status has seen sales rise.
But these are facts Peter Ascroft has known all of his life. The passionate grower, who heads H & P Ascroft, has been celebrating the benefits of the cauliflower for decades – in fact during growing season you’ll find Peter munching two whole cauliflowers per day. The 60-year-old has been working the land at Worthington’s Farm in Holmes, near Hesketh Bank, since he was 15, eventually taking over the job from his father, Hugh, who also dedicated much of his life to growing.
‘I finished at Tarleton County and it was a time when GCEs were coming out,’ remembered Peter. ‘I thought I’m out of here. I came back home to the farm and I’ve been here ever since.
‘It was a serious business growing cauliflowers and it still is now. I remember my mum Winifred falling off a wagon in the field one day. My dad was shouting “has she squashed the cauliflowers?” He wasn’t bothered about whether she’d hurt herself.’
‘It’s one of those stories we still talk about. My children joke about me in the same way. If someone cuts themselves, they say I’m more worried about blood on the cauliflower than anything else.’
But, despite all the jokes, Peter admits spoiled crops is the difference between having a livelihood and not. Over the decades he has worked hard to build the family business. He was joined by daughters Abigail Chetwood, who gave up a successful showjumping career when family came along, and Cheryl Forshaw, who was working as a personal trainer. Cheryl’s husband, John, started working for Peter more than 20 years ago on an YTS scheme at 15-years old.
While some believe talking to plants helps them grow, on Worthington Farm, it is clearly laughter that bring the largest yield for this family – on our visit it seemed the giggles continued from dawn until dusk.
And it works. They grow hundreds of tonnes of cauliflower each year – along with many varieties of beetroot, potatoes and cabbage, which are sold to Booths as well as at markets, restaurants and farm shops up and down the country. They have stuck to traditional methods, choosing to hand cut the vegetables and it’s a process they are quite rightly proud of.
But tradition has not slowed down innovation. As well as growing cauliflowers, Ascroft’s also cultivate different varieties of potatoes and beetroot including the golden beetroot, lovingly coined the Lancashire pineapple by Peter.
Peter’s passion for growing has certainly been passed on to his family with Cheryl, in particular, having a strong love of cauliflowers.
‘I absolutely love cauliflower, I can’t get enough of it,’ said the 33-year-old. ‘Everyone thinks vegetables are boring but that’s just not true. We want to make people passionate about veg.
‘Our dad is very fond of his veg. As kids we had to eat cabbage or cauliflower at every meal, even when we had pizza. But why not? It’s fantastic stuff. I love it.’
Cheryl is tasked with creating new ways of preparing the produce they grow as part of that ambition to make vegetables more popular. She has produced pots of salad using golden beetroot which have been sold in Booths in previous years and she is currently working on a candy stripe beetroot combination with raspberry vinegar.
Peter and his family are now focussed on boosting sales and making people fall in love with the vegetables they grow.
‘We’ve got to work hard at it,’ said Peter. ‘We don’t grow something, like Goosnargh duck say, where there is only that one place doing it. It would be great to have a brand like that.
‘But a cauliflower is a cauliflower and we have to work at being the best so people choose us. It’s been a hard climate for the past ten or 20 years and we want to move past that. I don’t ever want to give up what I’m doing. It’s a part of me and I can’t imagine a time when I won’t be doing it.’
Join us for the celebrations
Peter Ascroft’s hard work was recognised at last year’s Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards when he was named Food Hero of the Year. It was awarded to him for his dedication and passion to growing cauliflowers and golden beetroots.
‘I’d never won anything before in my life,’ he said. ‘Not since I first started on the farm. I was really overwhelmed, so happy and it felt really nice to be recognised.
‘It is hard work but I really believe in what we do. It’s something I’m very passionate about and I love it.’
The Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards is a night the county’s hospitality industry wants to be at and wants to win at. The Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards is one of the most prestigious occasions north’s culinary calendar.
This is always a very special occasion and no more so than in the 21st year of the awards and 70th anniversary of the magazine. The very best in the hospitality and food industry will gather at the Dunkenhalgh Hotel & Spa, Blackburn, for an evening of drinks and dining excellence.
The elegant black tie presentation night on Monday, October 16th celebrates the expertise of hoteliers, chefs, restaurateurs, pub landlords, food producers and their staff. And our judges are already putting likely contenders under scrutiny.
The panel of judges, chaired by Lancashire Life editor Roger Borrell, are busy drawing up a shortlist based on readers’ nominations as well as their own knowledge and expertise. They then visit each establishment incognito before contenders are revealed in a future issue.
Tickets are now available for the event on Monday 16th October at The Mercure Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa for a fabulous evening of food and drink.
For further details please email Linda Chase at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are £75 each + vat. The price includes a drinks reception, a four-course dinner and wine.
Lancashire Life readers wishing to stay at The Dunkenhalgh Hotel on the evening of October 16th can take advantage of a preferred room rate of £80 bed and breakfast based on single occupancy and £90 bed and breakfast based on double occupancy. Please call 01254 303407 and quote ‘Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards’.
For further info visit foodawards.lancashirelife.co.uk.