Asparagus: A perennial, asparagus are spear-like shoots that come in three main varieties: green, the most common; white, for which the green variety is field blanched; and purple, an extra sweet and tender variety that turns green when cooked.
Whilst imported asparagus can be found on supermarket shelves year-round, it’s the native crop that really gets us excited, and British asparagus's short-lived season, spanning just six to eight weeks, makes it the most eagerly awaited springtime food. However, after an unusually wet March and cool April it means that this year there is even more of a demand!
Ten Top Asparagus Facts:
1. Asparagus first came to Britain with the Romans. It thrives as a wild plant, and with its high tolerance of sandy, salty soil it will grow along riverbanks, shores of lakes, and coastlines, leading to much argument as to where it actually originated.
2. 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.
3. Asparagus also comes in shades of purple and red, which turn green only when cooked.
4. Sizes range from slender, young ‘sprue’ asparagus to thicker-stemmed, jumbo-sized ‘kitchen’ grades.
5. It takes about three years for asparagus plants to become established, and even longer to reach a fully productive state.
6. In the UK, asparagus is traditionally grown in the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire, and East Anglia.
7. Asparagus is considered a difficult food to pair with wine - it contains methyl mercaptan, a sulphur compound, which tends to give wine a vegetal or metallic taste. Try pairing asparagus with cool-climate wines that have pronounced herbal flavours to counteract this.
8. Top accompaniments for asparagus are butter, parmesan, hollandaise and vinaigrette, eggs, bacon or pancetta.
9. Asparagus is a member of the lily family.
10. Full of Nutrients: Vitamins A, C, K, thiamin, riboflavin, folate; iron; fiber.