A taste (and smell) of working-class life
That smell of good soil, damp canvas, assorted alliums, and chrysanthemums can only mean one thing – a leek show – and it transports me way back to my childhood.
The traditional North East leek shows aren’t as common as they once were, with the decline of the pits, heavy industry and the working men’s club but they survive.
And thanks to Beamish Museum, everyone can see the glory of monster veg and perfect flowers.There are effectively two shows at the Pit Village – the museum’s own, and Shield Row Allotment Association’s.
There are effectively two shows at the Pit Village – the museum’s own, and Shield Row Allotment Association.
What is a leek show?
For those not from traditional growing areas, the leek show is (or was) a mostly working-class male allotment hobby, where the object is to exhibit two matching blanched/pot leeks of mammoth proportions.
Winning pairs are judged on cubic capacity, with marks taken off for split sheaths, marks, non-uniformity, etc (it’s all very technical). The blanched area (white bit) has to be no longer than 15cm (6″) – with the largest possible circumference.
There are also separate classes for intermediates, with a blanched length from 15 and 35cm (6-14″) and long leeks have a blanched length from 23cm (9″) upwards, sometimes exceeding 60cm (24″).
What are the other veg classes?
There are classes for mammoth onions, carrots, parsnips, runner beans, peas, potatoes, marrows, tomatoes, mixed veg box and mixed veg selection. Every show varies in its categories – there was no giant pumpkin class at Beamish, but this is a big draw elsewhere (probably our climate).
Always popular is the misshapen veg, won by a wonderful Pink fir Apple potato, followed by a rude-looking tomato, and a squid-like parsnip!
The Shield Row Allotment Association’s flower classes were superb and just what you’d expect – dahlias of every shape, size, and colour; huge chrysanthemums, spires of gladioli and mixed vases of seasonal blooms.
The Beamish show had a class for sweet peas and buttonholes, too.
The Grand Auction
Take my advice – never miss a sell-off at a gardening show. The money from this one went to charity and huge class-winning vases of blooms were going for next to nothing – my sister-in-law (and photographer) Susan bought three whopping bunches for under £10.
We struggled back to the car with armfuls of flowers in a torrential rainstorm, bumping into one couple carrying toddler-sized leeks back to the car!
If you didn’t want to hang around for the auction, there was produce to buy for a suggested charity donation too.
It’s a great day out and I look forward to next year – to find out more about the continuing Great North Festival of Agriculture, visit www.beamish.org.uk.