Tipless, jumbos, stubbies and skinnies - we learnt a whole new vernacular that day. Yes, it’s asparagus season and it’s asparagus we’re talking. In the Horowhenua region there’s a feast of produce and our first stop was a wonderfully busy asparagus packhouse. The superbly named Tendertips.
We are in Horowhenua country, a region north of Wellington which stretches from Otaki up to Himitangi. Levin is the main town around here. And there’s Foxton, Shannon and Tokomaru nearby. On a spring visit, it wasn't hard to believe the wetland origins of this place, now transformed into plenty of productive farmland offering produce galore.
And we’re heading to see some of that great production.
A sign off State Highway 1 is clear. Fresh asparagus, drive in. And you should. Pull up outside an unassuming barn, the shop sign welcomes you in. And step into an absolute hive of activity.
Asparagus farming is a short production season - around 100 days, but during that time there’s plenty going on. Around 150 people working here, pickers and packers, in a family intergenerational business that has been here for years. For so long in fact, that they have managed to create their own amazing technology, to photograph (for size sorting) every spear of the green treasure - yes, that’s right, every spear….
We were lucky enough to meet Catherine, who was busy preparing for the inaugural Horowhenua Taste Trail. As we were shown around the packing shed, we saw the spears from start to finish, cleaned and tidied up to smart bunches. And we left with our own smart bunches of skinnies.
Main street for smoked eel
From there, into Levin to find the Levin Eel Trading Company. Another family owned real food business. On the main street, find the door and ring the bell. Treasure awaits.
A fridge full of smoked eel, eel pate, and even live eel, short fin and long fin, to take away - if you think you know what to do with that. Eels caught in the fresh waters throughout New Zealand, and here in Levin wonderful quality products are created. If you like smoked fish, and haven't had a chance to try smoked eel yet, then look out for it. More deliciousness.
And don't leave this region without stopping in to at least one of the tremendous stores of fruit and veges along the way. Even if the rain is pouring, and pouring. There’s plenty to satisfy even a vegetarian road-tripper. There is pick your own action, when the time is right. And homemade preserves and relishes as well. Try the fantastic pickled onions.
And so with asparagus and smoked eel pate in the bags, and front of mind, here’s a current twist on the kiwi classic roll - click here for an asparagus and eel pate slider idea.