Asparagus is one of the most sought-after vegetables and it thrives in our English climate, producing a flavour which is envied the World over. When the countryside starts to turn green, heralding the arrival of Spring, asparagus spears start to pop their heads above ground. The season lasts for just six to eight weeks so you need to make sure that you don’t miss out on an opportunity to try British asparagus at its best.
The asparagus spears are produced each year from the crown, which is a rhizome (a thick mass of roots) that lie dormant over winter. When the spring temperatures increases the crown starts to grow producing the spears. After approximately the 21st June (mid-summers day) each year the spears are allowed to grow up into a fern which is about one metre high and this allows the crown to regenerate for following years. The fern is commonly used in flower arranging as a filler.
New asparagus plantations are established by planting crowns in the Spring time. The spears from the new planting should not be picked for approximately two years to allow a strong crown to establish. Once established the crown should produce spears for six to eight years, but this depends on weed control and soil type. At the Cookham Pick Your Own Farm one patch of asparagus is now over twenty years old.
VARIETY GROWN AT COPAS FARMS PICK YOUR OWN:
The main variety grown is Geignlim but we also use Baklim.
The asparagus spears are just snapped off at ground level, or a knife can be used to cut the spear just below the ground.
In the Fridge: If you plan to keep your asparagus for a few days, keep it fresh by placing in a jug, glass or vase with the stems in water, then store (carefully) in the fridge.
In the Freezer: Wash well and cut of tough part off the stalks. Either leave as spears or cut into 2.5cm pieces. Boil thin stalks for 2 minutes, medium for 3 minutes and thick stalks for 4 minutes. Blanching the asparagus in this way before freezing prevents the enzymes that cause it to lose colour and taste from taking effect. Pack leaving about 2.5cm to 3.0cm of head space. For spears, it is a good idea to alternate tops and ends down.
British asparagus not only tastes divine, it is also full of disease-busting properties. Packed with nutrients, this special vegetable is bursting with goodness and its list of vitamins resemble the alphabet!
Asparagus is –
- low in calories
- low in fat
- low in carbohydrates
- low in sodium, and cholesterol free.
Asparagus has been shown to pack an almighty punch to cancer and heart disease as well as boosting your immune system.
A note of warning though – asparagus has been known to aggravate gout.
- Asparagus is a member of the Lily family (liliceae) along with the onion, garlic and tulip.
- Asparagus first came to Britain with the Romans.
- There are around 300 species of the asparagus family around the World (Ref. Encyclopedia Brittanica), including more than one poisonous species resident of Africa.
- Asparagus also comes in shades of purple and red but both turn green when cooked. On the continent white asparagus is also a big favourite.
- In Thailand and Vietnam asparagus is known as mÄfng tây, which means “European bamboo shoots”.
- Asparagus is considered a difficult food to pair with wine because it contains methyl mercaptan, a sulphur compound which tends to give wine a metallic taste. Try asparagus with cool-climate wines that have pronounced herbal flavours to counteract this.
COOKING AND EATING
Asparagus is a sensational ‘super food’ which is a truly versatile vegetable and delicious in all sorts of dishes. It isn’t just a luxurious accompaniment to a main course, there are numerous ways to enjoy asparagus (visit www.british-asparagus.co.uk for a more than a few ideas).
Some sensational ‘friends’ of asparagus include purple sprouting, broccoli, broad beans, spring onions, watercress, new potatoes, carrots, courgette, fennel and radishes. Here are some simple combination ideas designed to bring out the best of asparagus and other seasonal vegetables –
SNACKS AND SIDE DISHES—Ready to eat in minutes
· Asparagus with purple sprouting broccoli smothered with caper or anchovy butter.
· Chargrilled asparagus and spring onions with lime and sea salt.
LIGHT LUNCH OR SUPPER—Packed with flavour and simple
- Open sandwich of griddled asparagus, crab and watercress.
- For an Asian inspired salad mix asparagus with soy, chilli, crisp fried shallots, ribbons of fresh carrot and courgette and shredded fresh