Hop to it – Poor Man’s Asparagus

Very happy to find my first hops of the season yesterday – the young shoots are one of my favourite wild vegetables. Even in areas without any history of hop growing they can occasionally be found in hedgerows.

First Wild Hops of the year (the first of many to come!)
First Wild Hops of the year (the first of many to come!)

Spotting Hops / Hop ID

They are tricky to spot looking a bit like young brambles, superficially the leaves look similar, but last year’s old dry hop stems woven up through the hedge will point you in the right direction. The leaf will look a bit familiar, Hops are in the same family (Cannabaceae) as cannabis! The shoots look like asparagus but with tiny, soft spines. They have been used medicinally for thousands of years for everything from toothaches to tuberculosis. As always make sure you get the ID right. The shoots of Black Bryony are also found in hedges at this time of year, they are poisonous and look similar (check a wildflower book).

Hop Shoot
Hop Shoot

 

Hop Leaf - showing their membership of the cannabisae family!
Hop Leaf – showing their membership of the Cannabaceae family!

 

Black Bryony – poisonous – “heart”-shaped, glossy leaf, flowers on tips.

Eating Hop Shoots

Hop shoots are considered a delicacy in many parts of Europe. They have been called “poor man’s asparagus” but now are sold for large sums of money. In Belgium, a kilo sells for nearly $1400, making them the most expensive vegetable in the world!

There were attempts a few years ago to get UK chefs interested with a London Hop Festival and chef’s days out to hop gardens in Kent.

A bit more advanced - May last year
A bit more advanced – May last year (out the top of the hedges 2018!)

It is the last 6 inches or so that you want while they are still tender. Very young ones can be used as a salad ingredient or quickly steamed or boiled then topped with a little butter or lemon juice. Have on their own as a starter or as a veg; they go well with white fish. I like to use them in a frittata with whatever I have to hand including wild garlic or ground elder. You can also add them to risottos or omelettes.

Steamed Hop Shoots with Lemon Butter
Hop shoots about to be steamed and served with lemon butter

They are also used in herbal teas and soft drinks – one commercial make is popular in Sweden. The season is brief usually being late April and May. If you find some good spots, you might consider pickling them. There is a recipe here . You can also buy them already pickled (not cheap!). Serving suggestions for pickled hop shoots include:

  • Create a pasta, potato or Hop Salad, and use the brine in your vinaigrette recipe.
  • Excellent with any cheese
  • Wonderful as a martini or bloody mary garnish
  • Great stuffer/side dressing for Salmon dishes
  • Wrap with thin slices of meat and cream cheese
  • Makes a wonderful addition to herbal or spent grain bread recipes.
  • Snip and add to cheese balls and garnish
  • Blue cheese and hop shoot Omelette
  • Use in stuffing’s for chicken, turkey, or pork
  • Nice additions to relishes and chutneys
  • Brine also makes a great marinade

You could also leave them be and wait for the flowers (cones!) to develop. Any ideas?

Hop Flowers
Wild growing hop flowers