It is asparagus time in NN and as well as it being in all the supermarkets you can buy it in a number of laybys, farm shops and roadside stalls. Possibly an acquired taste but for me the pointer to the real beginning of harvesting what you can grow anew each year. Not that easy to grow but our bed is now in its third year and beginning to reward our patience.
One of the simplest of delights is a bundle in a pan and when cooked doused in butter and pepper and eaten with fingers that are then licked clean - in these Covid-19 times, remember, you're only allowed to lick your own fingers!
Here are some asparagus facts:
The English word asparagus derives from classical Latin, but the plant was once known in English as sperage, and this comes to us via medieval Latin and Greek from the Persian asparag, meaning sprout or shoot. - thus, once again, proving Katayoun's point that all good things come from Persia (Iran)!
Asparagus was also corrupted in some places to "sparrow grass"- a name occasionally still heard in deepest darkest Norfolk.
One of the issues with asparagus is that you need to wait 3 years to harvest but after that it can be cropped each spring for 15 years or more. The spears start out the diameter of pencil lead in year one. The mini-spears eventually grow into a ferny, waist-high canopy which feeds the underground rhizomes with energy synthesized from the sun. The plants gain strength in year two and by the following spring, some of the spears are reaching the full diameter of a pencil, signaling they’re ready to harvest.
By clicking on the picture you will get to the info I used when planting my asparagus. Yes, it does make your pee smell - its the sulphurous compounds that cause it.
White asparagus is not genetically different in any way. The lack of pigment in albino spears results from the absence of sunlight. White asparagus is one of the most labour-intensive vegetables to grow. Every spear is hand-picked just as the tip begins to show through the surface of the soil. You have to carefully excavate around each spear to a depth of nine inches and clip it at the base. It must be placed immediately in a dark box as white asparagus turns pink when exposed to sunlight - currently there is no market for this colour! Purple asparagus, on the other hand, is a genetic variety. Rather disappointingly, it reverts to green when cooked.
Asparagus was a favourite food in ancient Rome and the Emperor Augustus was such a connoisseur of the elegant vegetable, he organized elite military units to procure it for him. The famed Asparagus Fleets made rounds in the empire to import the best varieties back to Rome, while the fastest runners were employed to carry fresh spears high in the Alps, where it could be frozen for later use.
Asparagus plants come in male and female. The male plants are much more productive - proving the point that the female is the weaker sex. Talking of sex ... the second-century Sanskrit Kama Sutra, touts asparagus paste in milk as a boost for 'lackluster lovers'.
In Renaissance Europe, asparagus was one of the remedies suggested for the unhappily dysfunctional male. “A concoction of asparagus roots boiled in wine and being taken while fasting several mornings together,” claims Nicholas Culpeper in the Complete Herbal (1653), “stirreth up lust in man or woman, whatever some have written to the contrary.” It is suggested by some sources that asparagus was banned in nunneries!
Nineteenth-century French bridegrooms, to alleviate performance anxiety, were traditionally fed three courses of asparagus on their wedding nights.
So, if you are ready for a little aphrodisiacal adventure ...
Asparagus & Lemon Risotto
Serves 2 Ingredients:
50g/about 2oz of butter
1 small onion, chopped finely
200g/5½oz of arborio rice
A glass of white wine or look in the very back of the drinks store (where it is still the 1960s) for some Noilly Prat
400g/13oz asparagus, chopped into short lengths
1l/1¾pts hot chicken stock (you can use vegetable if you prefer)
1 lemon, squeezed and grated
3tbsp grated Parmesan
1. Melt the butter in a high-sided pan (I use my 25cm/10” Saute pan) over a low heat and soften the onion, stirring until it becomes translucent.
2. Stir in the rice and pour over the wine or vermouth and let it cook until the liquid has almost disappeared.
3. Add a ladleful of the stock, turn up the heat a little and wait till the liquid has almost disappeared before adding the asparagus and another ladle of stock.
4. Continue adding the stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until it has almost disappeared each time, stirring very often.
5. Season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and juice and continue cooking and stirring until the rice is creamy but still with a little bite in it.
6. Stir in the cheese and serve straight away.
I serve mine with a nice crisp green salad.
Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...
"Devil's-Bird – folk-name for the Swift (Apus apus): sky-screecher, spring-harbinger, sleep-on-the-winger, handbrake-turner, wheelie-puller, firer-up of the after-burner."
There were a pair swooping over our pond the night before last, seeking out the insects in the warmth of the evening photo: Pau Artiga air.
ps: The emperor Augustus would bark “Velocius quam asparagi conquantur!” or “Faster than cooking asparagus,” which can be loosely translated as, “Get a shift on or "Get your finger out" (The latter caused much hilarity to her siblings in a recent conversation!)
pps: if you just eat one spear then you have eaten an asparagi!
“Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud.” - Maya Angelou
"For all those people finding it difficult at the moment, the sun will shine again and the clouds will go away." - Capt Tom Moore.
"When everything seems to be against you, remember the aeroplane takes off against the wind, not with it" - Henry Ford
“and I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey” - Edward Thomas.
"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. - Julian of Norwich