Is Spring here yet? The food says yes!

bunch of asparagus

Oh the joys of seasonal eating! We’re now entering into prime seasonal-scoffing territory; asparagus, broccoli, jersey royal new potatoes, lettuce & salad leaves, new potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, radishes, rocket, samphire, spinach, spring onions, watercress, wild nettles – they’re all ready to go at the moment and it gets better, the strawberries are coming in June.

Believe it or not, despite the hideous recent onslaught of rain and hail, May marks the start of the asparagus season. Here are a few facts for you to chew on:

  • Asparagus is a member of the lily family.
  • Asparagus first came to Britain with the Romans.
  • Asparagus also comes in shades of purple and red, which turn green only when cooked.
  • Sizes range from slender, young ‘sprue’ to the thicker-stemmed, jumbo-sized ‘kitchen’ grades.
  • It takes about three years for asparagus plants to become established, and even longer to reach a fully productive state.
  • In the UK, asparagus is traditionally grown in the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire, and East Anglia.
  • Try accompanying asparagus with butter, hollandaise, vinaigrettte, a poached egg, bacon or pancetta.
  • White asparagus is grown by creating mounds of soil around the growing spears, hiding them from the light and resulting in their blanched, pale look. It is particularly labour-intensive to harvest, as experienced eyes are needed to spot the spear tips in the soil.
  • The ancient Egyptians were the first to record a love of asparagus. Pharaoh Ikhnaton and his queen Nefertiti called asparagus a food of the gods.

When buying, look for firm but tender stalks with good colour and closed tips. Smaller, thinner stalks are not necessarily more tender.

Once picked, asparagus rapidly loses flavour and tenderness, so it really is worth eating it on the day you buy it. Wash in cold water and snap off the bottom ends. Boil or steam quickly until just tender, around 4 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

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