It is great fun to mix things up every now and then, so what’s more mixed up for a city gal that normally doesn’t wear gumboots or play in the rain than to pull on a pair of wellies and go splish splashing during a downpour? Oh yes, it was bizzaro world last Saturday and GG and I were invited along to Edgecombe Bros for a fun new adventure – their Asparagus Masterclass.
I’m a long time fan of a crunchy green asparagus spear but I can’t say that I’ve often fully appreciated it’s paddock to plate journey. Well with this Masterclass I would actually be heading into the paddock and then dishing up a serve of fresh asparagus on a plate. I was really looking forward to it. It’s nice to do something different.
These classes have run for the past few years and are held at Edgecombe Brothers Estate in Henley Brook. This year they’ll be running between September 1 until December 19. It’s such a pretty part of the world and the Swan Valley was looking particularly lush and green after all the recent rain, when we rocked up on Saturday. The Edgecombe crew are renowned for their lovely asparagus and actually grow around 4 tonnes each year, which is a lot of spears!
Alfred Edgecombe, who is the son of one of the original Edgecombe brothers and a particularly lively character, runs the Asparagus Master Class program.
“My late brother Walter had the foresight to diversify with asparagus around 20 years ago”, said Mr Alf Edgecombe, Winery and Café Manager. “In the Master Class, we invite guests to bring their gumboots to join with me and roam the asparagus patch, finding out about how it’s grown and how to harvest it,” he said. “The other key part of the experience is cooking and tasting the asparagus afterwards, alongside our wines,” he said.
So the classes run Monday to Friday and then on the first weekend of each month and the itinerary is as follows:10:30am for 11am start – Welcome coffee/tea plus homemade Anzac biscuits. 11am – Walk (5min) to our closest asparagus patch where we discuss aspects of asparagus growing plus choose and pick what we need for lunch. Make sure to wear appropriate clothing depending on the day (We do have some spare rubber boots & hats!) 12pm – return to the café with the asparagus pick, to prepare the asparagus and cook them for lunch, showing our preferred cooking technique. Also a tutoured wine tasting of Edgecombe Bros Range conducted while lunching. 1pm – coffee/tea with Edgecombe Estate grown chocolate coated figs. 1:30pm – 2pm close of class plus hand over of recipes and starter pack of ready to go 250grams of asparagus. Free Asparagus plant to take home (Value $12)
GG and I arrived just after 10.30 and were kindly directed to a table and our order for coffee or tea taken. We were soon joined by Alf who kickstarted our morning with a cheeky Muscat, before bringing over a large jar of homemade Anzac biscuits. And these were really good Anzac biscuits. You know the really lovely, chewy kind. It was very hard to restrain myself to just the one. So as we sat and enjoyed our hot drinks Alf showed us a map of the property and gave us some background on the Edgecombe Brothers story.
The fifty acre Swan Valley property was purchased in 1925 by two brothers who immigrated to Western Australia from Worthing in the UK. Don and Frank Edgecombe developed the property over the years, focussing in the 1930s and 40s on mainly table grapes for export. By the mid 1960s their efforts shifted to both table and wine grapes for the local market and continues today.
The founding brothers’ values of freshness and friendliness is carried through by the generations that run the business today as they continue to grow and pick their own produce, including table grapes, melons, pumpkins, citrus, broad beans, olives and asparagus.
The vines remain an integral part of the family property, and the family welcome patrons and friends to hop into the vineyard at pruning and picking time to experience working in a vineyard. You must be dedicated, have a good work ethic, be prepared to work from dawn to dusk 7 days a week, and not mind either the freezing cold mornings during pruning, or the super hot summer days during picking.
I liked how Edgecombe Brothers was still a family business and they were clearly still so passionate about both their wines and more recently their asparagus.
When we finished our drinks we were shown outside where it was time to don the gumboots. In a Cinderella moment I found a pair that fit perfectly, as did my handsome prince and the pair of us happily headed across to the asparagus field. As we discovered, the reason they’ve had such success with their asparagus is the beautiful rich soil in this part of the world. It’s really led to their asparagus crops flourishing.
I have to say that standing in the field and having the chance to snap a fresh spear, straight from the plant was a very cool experience. Sure in my youth, my brother and sister and I used to pilfer the peas from my grandad’s vegie garden, but can’t say I had ever eaten asparagus this fresh. But then it was time to get picking. We were armed with a sharp knife, like asparagus bandits and wandered through the rows slicing off spears, as equal in size as we could.
We soon had a very decent stash in our crate and fortunately it was just as the rain arrived. What started as a light shower turned into a comically heavy downpour and the dash back to the cellar door might have only been short but we copped a decent soaking. But you know what, I really didn’t mind. Our jackets and boots kept us warm and it was really all about the experience. I’m sure real farmers don’t mind a little rain 🙂
So then it was time to prepare the asparagus for cooking. We each had a handful and were put to work finding the snap point, between where the lovely fresh asparagus started and the lower section that could potentially be a little more fibrous.
With that job done we were brought out a delicious plate of piping hot, toasted Turkish bread, along with some cubes of cheese, olive tapenade, balsamic vinegar and olive oil that they make in house. After working in the field (ok exaggeration I know, we did not have to work very hard) it was lovely to enjoy the bread and dips. I particularly loved the tapenade, it had a beautiful rosemary infusion to it, which was wonderful with the rich black olive flavour. I was fairly liberal when I slathered it onto the warm slices.
Now along with the Turkish bread we also tried a few of the Edgecombe Bros Wines – first the NV Sparkling Chardonnay and the 2013 Semillion, before we tried the 2013 Shiraz and the 2011 Cabernet Merlot. Always pleasant to have the opportunity to try a few new wines and I’m a recent fan of a straight Semillon and I enjoyed their version.
It was then time for the main event – asparagus cooking time, we’d visited the paddock, now get it on the plate! To really showcase how wonderful asparagus can be in all its exquisite simplicity, Alf set up a large pot of a boiling water and added the spears, blanching them for a few minutes. From there they were popped into a frying pan with a generous splash of chilli infused olive oil and a sprinkle of cracked pepper and rock salt until they were all coated and looking lovely and glossy. Alf then loaded up three plates with a mountain of spears and we were encouraged to sprinkle on some shaved parmesan. Wow, so simple but just delicious and highlighting that with asparagus it doesn’t need a whole lot of fancy prep to shine. I can honestly say this was the most asparagus I have ever eaten in one sitting. But both GG and I polished off our plates.
We were both feeling pretty comfortable at this point, but you need to remember to save a little room for another coffee or tea and for one of their very decadent chocolate coated, muscat soaked figs. They are as indulgent as they sound, but just divine with a cuppa. We were also lucky enough to really round out proceedings with a sample of Edgecombe Bros Muscadelle Limited Edition Fortified Wine. Like liquid gold, it had an incredible rich flavour that was wonderfully warming on this colder day.
And so ended our Asparagus Masterclass. Oh though I should say, not before we were each presented with an asparagus plant to take home with us and a packet of spears too (along with a booklet of recipes, which is always handy!). They couldn’t send you home empty handed 🙂
Both of us really enjoyed the experience. It’s something different and unless you have a vegie patch at home then it’s not every day you have the chance to get really hands on with a veg that you only tend to see at your fruit and vegie shop. I liked the opportunity to see how it grew and to hear more about the Edgecombe Brothers story. They sell their asparagus at their cellar door every day during season and the Swan Valley is seriously not far away at all. For those lucky folks in Ellenbrook and the Vines, this is only a stones throw from you. So if you are looking for something fun and interesting and want to become more of an asparagus aficionado then head to Edgecombe Brothers and spend a few hours with Alf, he’s a very entertaining chap 🙂
- Running from the 1st of September until the 19th of December
- Minimum booking of 2 at $55.00 head weekdays, $70.00 weekends – Payable in advance
- For booking/paying contact Swan Valley Visitor Centre 9am – 4pm 93799400 (7 days) swanvalley.com.au or direct to Edgecombe Brothers (10am-5pm only)
- Gumboots and hats are available, but ensure you wear weather appropriate clothing
My thanks to Edgecombe Brothers for extending the invitation to GG and I to head along and try out your Masterclass. We had such a lovely morning!