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What is It?

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This brass measure, called a leek gauge or hook, is a vintage tool that was used to determine the winning plant in pot-leek-growing competitions, popular in England. (Pot leeks are so called because, not coincidentally, they are grown in pots.) To qualify for competition, pot leeks must have a blanched area (the white part that grows underground) that measures no greater than 6" (15cm). The hook at the bottom of the gauge is placed under the root plate at the base of the leek, and the measurement is made to the button, the point where the vegetable’s lowest flags, or leaves, divide. Modern versions of this tool are called leek calipers. They’re similar but feature a sliding point that can be locked in place for greater accuracy. To determine the winning leek, its circumference is measured at the halfway mark of the blanched area’s length, usually with a cloth tape measure. The total size of the leek, specified in cubic inches, is determined using a measuring chart. The quality of the leek is also of great consideration; it must be in edible condition. Another class for the heaviest competition is determined by the leek’s weight alone.

The concept of “leek shows” began in the late 1880s in northeast England. Other vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, celery, etc., were shown, but leeks were considered the ultimate display of horticultural skill. Leek clubs formed across the region. Competition among growers was and still is taken quite seriously — not surprising, considering the winner lays claim to such prizes as cash, Caribbean holidays, major home appliances and, of course, fame. There have even been reports of sabotage or theft among growers. In fact, leak slashing is a long-standing and common practice.

According to professional growers, developing good leeks requires an excellent plant strain, a proven growing method and ideal weather. Leeks can be grown from seed or propagated from pods. The advantage of raising them from pods, particularly for the purpose of competition, is that the offspring will carry the same genetic characteristics as the parent. And if the parent was a prize winner, this bodes well for the offspring and their grower.