Maws are delighted to be stocking new season British asparagus.
It’s fair to say asparagus remains the undisputed monarch of seasonal veg. Yet asparagus has become a victim of its own success as we satisfy our culinary desires well beyond the domestic growing season with with imports from Peru and Mexico. For years now asparagus has been such a mainstay of supermarket shelves and restaurant menus, many of us have long since forgotten to even consider it as seasonal.
Yet the fact remains, there’s nothing quite like home-grown, fresh-picked asparagus, and with British asparagus season (from late April until late June) now in full swing, it’s time to remind ourselves just how good the newly-plucked home-grown stuff is. So rather than eating mediocre asparagus all year, fresh, local asparagus should be embraced wholeheartedly while it’s in season and the contrast, quite literally, savoured.
Truly fresh asparagus is vastly superior in flavour and texture to asparagus that has been shipped across the Atlantic (crated upright in ventilated, waxed boxes with a wet pad in the bottom to keep the tips from drying out). Asparagus is best eaten within a few days of harvest, after that its natural sugars start turning to starch, the stems get woody and tough, and the tips start to decay, so all those food miles are doing as much to damage asparagus’ delicate flavour as they are the global environment.
Asparagus grows best in temperate climates (making the UK ideal for their cultivation) and prefers to sit in well-drained soil on a sunny site. Shoots come from underground perennial crowns and when spring conditions are just right these can grow up to ten inches a day during peak season, which means constant vigilance is required to pick them at precisely the right moment.
When it’s perfect, Asparagus can stir even the most reticent gourmet to fervent exultation, and this is nothing new. Native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa, asparagus has a long and illustrious history both as a food and a medicine. Five-thousand-year-old friezes depict Egyptians delivering asparagus as a sacred offering to their gods. Ancient Greeks used the whole plant, drying it so they could use it year-round, as a digestive aid, heart tonic, a cure for toothaches and obstructions of the liver and kidneys.
The Romans were also nuts about the stuff it, bringing spring asparagus high up into the Alps to freeze it for winter use, while a book of eroticism from 15th century Arabia hails asparagus as a potent aphrodisiac, claiming that eating it fried in butter with egg yolks for several days will produce the same results for men as a Viagra pill today.
Regardless of questionable claims about improving male virility, Asparagus is packed with health giving nutrients, while also being low in calories. It a fantastic source of vitamins K, which aids blood clotting and promote healthy bone growth, along with vitamin B-complex, C and E, many minerals. It’s also packed full of phytonutrient antioxidants, which protect cells from harmful free-radicals particles, and have also been found to have blood-pressure lowering, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects.
Maws are currently supplying new season asparagus, grown just a few miles away in the Kent countryside near the village of Groombridge. The asparagus being produced here yielded gloriously fresh, dark green spears of medium width, with juicy, light purple heads. Enjoy it raw, marinated, blanched, pickled, steamed, sautéed, baked, roasted, deep fried, grilled, or simply prepared in classic French style by lightly steaming and serving topped with fresh Hollandaise sauce.
Sold by the pound (lb) while the season lasts!