Carol Ann Sayle
In Turin, Italy, a few years ago, as "delegates" to Slow Food's international conference, Terra Madre, we also visited the adjacent Salone del Gusto. Housed in a former Fiat factory (with a test track on the roof!) the salon featured Italy's favorite foods—seemingly all kinds of cheeses and sausages—but the item that caught my eye was a pile of leeks, "porros," in Italian. The leeks were slender and very long, with their pointy green leaves intact, indicating freshness, but they were notable (to me) for their extremely long, blanched shanks.
My Spanish language skills were no help with the Italians, and so I couldn't ask about the growing of leeks with such long shanks—averaging a foot long. But in my heart I already knew the answer. Their soil.
The soil those leeks grew in had to be deep and loose, not in any way similar to the "concrete" soil of Austin, Texas. Few folks expect us to grow leeks in Texas, but we have grown them for many years. It is an active passion of mine—like anything we're not expected to grow. Like fava beans, parsnips, mache, and rhubarb. We grow all of those items, and much more, plus the tomatoes, cilantro, and chiles that are expected.
Since being awestruck over those porros, I have each year attempted to figure out a tool that we could use to poke a hole deep enough through our permanently raised beds' soil, so that the leeks would have the longest blanched shanks possible. Finally, last year, in the clutter of our tool barn, I stumbled on a pointed metal rod with a red plastic two-handed handle on one end. It served us years ago, hooked up to a liquid fertilizer container and a water hose, to root feed our strawberry plants.