- Food and Cooking
The Asparagus Season
The Asparagus Season Means Spring is Here
Asparagus has been called 'The Prince of Vegetables', 'The King of Vegetables' and 'The Queen of Vegetables' and, as such, the asparagus season is celebrated most royally!
The Asparagus plant, (Asparagus officinalis), is a perennial vegetable of the Lily family, (although it looks nothing like a lily!), and is native to the Eastern Mediterranean area.
What's in a name? Well, the origin of the name comes from the Greek 'asparagos' meaning 'sprout' or 'sparrow'. As if this wasn't quaint enough, in Germany it's called Spargelzeit, but in the Vale of Evesham, England, it's simply known as 'Gras'.
So when is the asparagus season and just what are the rituals and festivities associated with this most seasonal of crops?
St Georges Day is the first Day of the Asparagus Season in England
Mouthwatering Morsels from Stockton Asparagus Festival - You too can share this Californian dream
This paperback book is packed with recipes that come from the Stockton, California Asparagus Festival. Every year since the festival began asparagus has been cooked at the festival in the top tent known as 'Asparagus Alley'. Now you can share some of these gorgeous ways of cooking this wonderful, green vegetable.
See below for more about Stockton Asparagus Festival ...
Keep food seasonal!
Asparagus is a great seasonal vegetable
In Britain at least, most of our food is imported. We're used to having apples, tomatoes and sweetcorn all the year around. We eat strawberries in December. We have largely lost our sense of seaonality. I think this is a shame.
I lived for a year in the Vale of Evesham, a region famous for it's asparagus, and I have fond memories of the asparagus coming into the shops, restaurants and hotels. It was a delight to see all the boards outside the eateries boasting their particular take on the dish. At the time I was a poor artist living from hand to mouth but I vowed that when I made my fortune, I'd treat myself to a week's holiday in Evesham expressly to enjoy this vegetable at it's freshest and cooked to a 'T'.
Sadly that day has not yet arrived, so if you are a wealthy, benevolent asparagus lover, please feel free to take me there. (Son and husband would love to come too!)
Instead, I managed to buy a farm in France Les Trois Chenes where I'm now able to grow my own asparagus, but without a great deal of success! (These are some of my asparagus shoots).
Fat White Asaragus Spears - I spotted these great beauties in Piegut Market, South West France
Piegut, the little town with a big Wednesday market is just across the border from Les Trois Chenes. We are just in the Limousin region, and Piegut is thirty minutes away in the Dordogne.
Every Wednesday morning this small and picturesque town hosts a wonderful market where you can buy all sorts of traditional French goods and local products. This is the place to go to shop for fresh, local fruit and vegetables and this is where I spotted these big, fat white beauties.
Eat your heart out!
The Aspargus Season in England begins 23rd April
And ends 21st June - around Midsummers Day
St. George's day, April 23rd 2012 saw the opening of the 2012 Asparagus Festival in the Vale of Evesham. Much of the asparagus jolities took place in Evesham, Bretforton, just on the edge of the Cotswolds and many of the other picturesque villages in this quaint and beautiful part of the world.
The Asparagus Festival which is always launched on St. George's Day and ends traditionally on Midsummer's Day - June 21st.
The British Asparagus Festival in the Vale of Evesham - 23rd April - 21st June 2013
Get fit with the Great English Asparagus Run happening on Tuesday the 23rd of April
For anyone who can't run on their own two feet - take the Tours on Wednesday the 15th, the 22nd and on the 29th of May
Splash the cash at Bretforton Silver Band Auction on Sunday the 26th of May
Feast the eyes and eat the asparagus at the AsparaFest on Saturday the 1st and Sunday the 2nd of June
These are just the highlights! Go to the British Asparagus Festival Programme
In 2011 jamie Oliver visited the festival and his time there is documented in his latest book, 'Jamie's Great Britain'.
- Asparagus Programme 2912
This festival is choc-a-bloc with fab asparagus stuff
A Few English Aspy Facts
- The majority of Britain's
asparagus is now grown in the
- There are over three
square miles of cultivation in Worcestershire
- Demand for
it in the UK is increasing
by 12 -14% each year
- Asparagus production is rising at around 7% each year
- none of this crop is exported - we love it so much we eat it all ourselves!
It's Called Spargelzeit in Germany - The 'Prince' of German vegetables
In Germany the asparagus season is called spargelzeit and in 2012 it Germany opened on Thursday 19th April with tasting in Brandenburgh. As in Evesham, once the season begins everyone is eating white asparagus and every restaurant will have their own recipe or special way of serving it: wrapped in bacon, with butter and pepper, or butter sauce, cooked crisp or cooked soft, soup. You can even have asparagus icecream.
The festivals crown the spargel queens with circles of asparagus.
There are more contentious issues around asparagus in Germany. People disagree over whether or not you should you add sugar, but there are also more serious issues. What do people think of the immigrant Polish workers come in to pick the crops?
- From Our Own Correspondent
Our own correspondent in Germany tells us about the excitement at the start of the white asparagus season there.
The Asparagus Queen
Schrobenhausen in Germany is the home of The Asparagus Queen. With it's roots in the Bronze age and the Romans, today Schrobenhausen is an historic town famed for it's asparagus. There's an museum , a festival and a queen all dedicated to the prince of veg!
The Stockton Asparagus Festival - The asparagus season 2013 is April 26, 2013 - April 28
In America California is the leading producer of asparagus and Washington state is second. Both have experienced severe declines in the industry, suffering from foreign imports, particularly from Peru and South America, but Americal asparagus farmers are fighting back! Just one of the initiatives that is bringing asparagus back to Americans is the asparagus festival.
The Stockton Asparagus Festival began over 27 years ago and today this festival, with 60 committees, and 5500 volunteers, is one of the largest charitable special events in California. It has donated over $5.5 million to date to over 100 charities that volunteer each year at the festival.
This is a festival of food of fun! Asparagus dishes will be cooling in Asparagus Alley and Spear-It Lane, including "Deep Fried Asparagus, Asparagus Ice Cream, Asparagus Pasta, Asparagus Steak Burritos, Asparagus Steak Sandwich and .... Chicken Asparawrap". There are circus events, rides, games, cooking demos from the Chef of the Feast, farmers market, shopping, arts and crafts, a home and garden exhibition, small business exhibition and still more.
Here's a taste of fun to come .... Check out The Stockton Asparagus Festival Program 2013
A Little Vegie History
It's been around a long time
Wild asparagus varieties have been found in Egypt and other regions of Africa and archeologists have shown that it's been cultivated since Pharaohs' times. We know that asparagus was cultivated by the Romans as early as 200 BC; the Roman writer Cato was the first known writer to describe how to cultivate asparagus. Pliny the Elder, one of the main sources for the history of food, includes asparagus in his Materia Medica, but seemed to fall from favour during the Middle Ages.
The reign of Louis XIV saw an upturn in the popularity of this tasty vegetable, but from the 16th century, asparagus was served in the courts of Europe and was produced only for the consumption of the nobility until the 18th century. No wonder it's called the Prince of Vegetables!
Asparagus was first grown in Evesham in the 1600's, and the taste for this 'grass' spread to America during the 1700's. During the 19th Century markets in the Evesham area increased with the coming of the railways. Production increased yet again during the 20th century and in 1960's the first asparagus auctions took place in the Fleece
Inn at Bretforton.
Today, you can find asparagus in British supermarkets all year round.
Asparagus is also Known as Sparrow Grass or Sparagrass
Sparrow Grass is Good For You
Just a few of the health benefits of asparagus
Asparagus is just packed with goodies to keep you in tip-top condition. Fat free and low in calories, it has all the benefits of fresh, green vegetables, but in addition, it boasts the following specific health benefits:
- Contains anti-inflammatory agents
- Is a diuretic
- Is a natural laxative
- Helps reduce urinary track problems, clearing urine, treatment of urea and urinary obstructions.
- Contains Asparagine or aspartic acid, one of the most common natural amino acids found in foods
- Benefits kidneys, adrenal glands and bladder, and has even been said to get rid of kidney stones
- Contains fiber to aid digestion without irritation
- Source of folic acid, which is known to reduce birth defects
- Contains iron to prevent anemia
- Is said to purify the blood
- Aids blood circulation
- Encourages liver drainage
- Good source of vitamins B, copper, zinc and potassium
- Contains manganese which is good for bone density, ligaments and skin
- Contains carotene (pro-vitamin A)
- Good source of glutathione, an antioxidant with anti-cancerogenic properties. (Asparagus contains more glutathione than any other common food item)
So many good reasons to
Gobble Up Your Greens!
Is Asparagus an Aphrodisiac? - It's easy to see why folks think so!
Well, take a look at the cover of this book, The Mighty Asparagus, (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards), by Vladimir Radunsky; I think you'll see that at least part of the answer is there!
One thing asparagus will do though, is make your pee smell of this fine vegetable.
Grow Your Own - Seeds or crowns? - Crown for the Queen of Vegetables!
Why don't you grow your own asparagus? There's nothing like the real thing, freshly picked minutes before cooking from your own garden. Not the easiest thing in the world to grow, but having said that I've seen asparagus growing wild on a railway siding in Limoges, south west France! It was a cracking good plant too.
You can buy seed, but it's is tricky to get going so it's best to buy roots, sometimes called crowns. Even then you have to wait a year or two before harvesting. On the other hand, good things come to those who wait!
Grow your own asparagus with asparagus seeds. If you need quantity, have green fingers and can wait - why not? It's easier, though, to buy crowns
Try Mary Washington asparagus seeds in your garden
I would recommend growing asparagus from roots - or crowns
How to Choose The Best Spears
Make sure you get the best
As soon as it's cut asparagus sugars begin to turn to starch, so eat it as fresh as possible. If you can't grow your own or harvest from the wild, choose the freshest source you can.
When you buy asparagus, look for smooth spears with shiny stalks and tightly closed heads. They should not be dried or woody looking. Once at home, cook as soon as possible and in the meantime wrap in a damp cloth and put it in the fridge, or put them with their stalks just in a little cold water in a jar, as you would a bunch of flowers.
How to Prepare It - Quite an art!
How to Cook Asparagus
You must do it properly
There are various types of asparagus and various ways of cooking. Asparagus can be steamed, boiled or grilled. Why not read what TV chef Jamie Oliver has to say about it? Three simple ways to cook asparagus
Are you a Jamie Oliver fan? Take a look at his excellent products in this Jamie Oliver Gift Guide
Asparagus Steamers - Sometimes the simplest things are the best
Asparagus steamers are great because they're quick and easy, keep your asparagus upright to cook the tougher stalks well while preserving the tender tips.
How to Serve - Tongs and Trays
There's more to it than you think!
Asparagus is such a delicacy that a whole ritual has grown up around this delectable vegetable, and with the ritual comes many beautiful cooking implements, plates, trays and servers. The serving plates are often decorated with images of asparagus, the tong or servers, and asparagus trays are often crafted in silver.
In the past ladies would serve their asparagus on special silver trays which had a pierced liner to prevent the asparagus lying in it's own juice. Sadly, these trays don't seem to be readily available now, (so keep your eyes peeled for them on e Bay and your local antique fairs), but you can still buy asparagus drainers.
Why not indulge yourself and make the most of these few weeks when asparagus is in season. Give an asparagus lunch or dinner party, decorate the table with all the pride and care of a Victorian matriarch and gorge yourself on this healthy treat.
Asparagus Servers Come in Many Forms - And I just love these pretty kitchen tools
Asparagus servers date from the mid eighteenth century, and the earliest ones were tongs which worked like scissors. They were ususally silver, perhaps to show the honour which was heaped onto asparagus.
The form changed as the nineteenth century approached and asparagus servers became wider and many were joined at the back to form of bow-back tongs with a collar or yoke. Later still, the silversmiths produced blunt pronged fork shaped servers, often beautifully decorated.
Lovely asparagus severs with asparagus and leek handles.
Simple and effective tongs
These asparagus servers have a lovely antique quality.
Great vintage-style asparagus servers that you could use as kitchen decorations.
How Do You Like Yours? - So many ways to enjoy!
How do you cook asparagus?
Where Did I Get My Information? - My asparagus sources (if you'll forgive the pun)
- Radio 4 factoids on Twitter
Men eat more asparagus than women
- Farming Today
Asparagus industry expert, Adrian Barlow
- British Asparagus Blog
Lots of the latest on Asparagus
- Asparagus Lover
2012 asparagus festival
- British Asparagus Festival
More festival feaver
- Beverly Bremer Silver
Information about asparagus servers and trays
- Pure Inside Out
Health benefits of asparagus
Scrobenhausen is the home of the Asparagus Queen
- BBC Magazine
Read more about asparagus by Stephen Evans
© 2012 Barbara Walton