Lincolnshire farmed shallots – one of the county's little known gems
12:00 22 June 2012
Often thought of as a little onion and only purchased by just over 13% of the UKs households (as opposed to onions which are bought by over 85%!), shallots are currently enjoyed by a relatively small number of people. Among those are professional chefs and passionate home cooks and, for them, the store cupboard would not be complete without them.
The Oldershaws, a Lincolnshire-based family, grow shallots on their farm just outside of Spalding. Oldershaws is a family business in the true sense of the word. Founded in 1946 by the late Gilbert Oldershaw MBE the farm is now run by his son Robert and grandson Robert Jnr.
The traditional round shallots, which are grown by the Oldershaws, have a uniquely delicate, sweet, piquant flavour, quite different from that of an onion, and benefit from the areas fantastically fertile soil and perfect climate.
And producing shallots certainly keeps the Oldershaws busy as they have quite an intricate growing process. The growing year starts in February as soon as the soil (hopefully!) starts to warm up. And as a specialist crop, they require a great deal of care from preparing the beds to sowing the seeds to harvesting and storing the bulbs.
Supermarkets demand the best quality and a uniform shape so, from the start, it is important for the Oldershaws to make sure that the number of shallot plants in a field is just right - too many plants and the shallots will be too small, too few plants and the shallots will be too big. But once theyre grown, shallots have fantastic storing qualities so crops grown in areas such as Lincolnshire can be eaten almost all year round.
Shallots are a fantastic addition to a meal and can really lift the dish. My favourite way to have them is to roast them with the skin in a little oil as an accompaniment to hot or cold meats, or to pickle them in vinegar with a couple of bird eye chilli and some pickling spice, says Robert Oldershaw Jnr.
Watch this short video for more ideas on the many ways you can use shallots: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K0fAHlienc
Things you probably didnt know about shallots:
- Ancient Egyptians allegedly rubbed shallot or onion juice into their scalps as a remedy for baldness.
- Peeling shallots can be a complete nightmare unless you let the shallots steep in a bowl of recently boiled water for 10 minutes. Then the outer dry skin just rubs off!
- Shallots breathe! The reason that shallots have such amazing storing properties is because it is possible to slow down their intake of oxygen by controlling the temperature of their environment. Put shallots into a cold store and voila cryogenics for the vegetable world!