The Asparagus season is here, it must be summer!
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Although we can buy imported asparagus all year round, it is with great anticipation that we await our own home grown asparagus. Such excitement is justified, as it is available for only a short season from the beginning of May to the end of June.
Enjoyed in numerous ways, the most popular accompaniments include Hollandaise sauce, butter & cracked black pepper, eggs, pancetta, parmesan cheese or smoked salmon.
Apart from being utterly delicious, asparagus is an intriguing and attractive vegetable which has prompted us to gather a few interesting facts:
A member of the lily family, an asparagus plant takes at least three years to establish, as it needs to develop a deep root system. The spears grow from an underground ‘crown’, which can send spears up for 6 to 7 weeks in the growing season. In the right weather conditions and ideal sandy soil, a spear can grow 10 inches in 24 hours!
Believed to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans, asparagus has also been found depicted as an offering to the gods on an Egyptian frieze dating back to 3000BC. Historically, it has been consumed as a vegetable and for medicinal purposes, being thought to cure most ailments, including inflammation and indigestion.
Indulged in as a delicacy by the ancient Greeks, the name apparently originates from the Greek word ‘Aspharagos’ which means shoot or sprout. In old England, it was once known as ‘sperage’, which became adulterated to ‘Sparrow Grass’ in the 18th century. The latin name is Asparagus officinalis.
Asparagus is mostly grown as the green variety, but can also be purple or white. White asparagus is cultivated by covering the plant with a mound of soil depriving the growing spears of sunlight. They are then harvested as pale shoots when they erupt from the soil.
Steamed, boiled, stir-fried, grilled and roasted are just a few of the ways that asparagus can be cooked. When preparing the spears, simply break off the tougher ends as you will find there is a natural point where they will snap off, ensuring you don’t lose any of the best bit!
Asparagus is rich in protein, fibre, anti-oxidants, folic acid, numerous vitamins and minerals, yet is low in calories and sodium and contains no cholesterol.
Long renowned as an aphrodisiac, the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that asparagus “stirs up lust in man and woman” and a 19th century French pre-nuptial dinner would involve the bridegroom being served three courses of asparagus! However, this claim is more likely to be due to asparagus being so nutrient rich, therefore contributing to healthy hormone production. The suggestive shape of asparagus spears have lead to them being referred to as ‘points d’amour’ or ‘love tips’!
On a less sexy note, the peculiar smell that you may notice upon urination after consuming asparagus is due to a sulphurous compound called methyl mercaptan. Fortunately, not all of us will experience this effect and not everyone has the ability to smell it either!
For a simple, tasty and different way to serve asparagus (and test out a couple of the theories described above), try our Cajun spiced asparagus recipe!