Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Good things come to those who wait: British Asparagus

I know you can buy asparagus all year round these days, but to be honest I’d sooner poke myself in the eye with it than eat the sad excuse for the stuff imported from Spain, Thailand or Peru that's on offer year round in the supermarkets! Taste it and you’ll seriously wonder what the fuss is all about, only those with a fertile imagination could possibly identify any real flavour in it. For proper asparagus, in all its glory, you have to hold out for the British asparagus season... and until then I'd rather go without.

So the season is long awaited but also desperately short; traditionally beginning on 1st May it runs for around seven to eight delicious asparagus-filled weeks, until the end of June. For me the shortness of the season only serves to heighten both my anticipation and enjoyment of it and I can happily devour it three times a week in something resembling an asparagus feeding frenzy.

We bought our first asparagus of the season on May bank holiday weekend at The Dales Festival of Food in Leyburn. Grown by the Spilman's at Pasture Lane Asparagus, it is some of the best around and we indulged in 2 big bundles of the unmistakable thick, purple tipped spears. Britain's climate means the plant matures more slowly than it does in warmer climes and this helps to develop the uniquely delicate flavour that is so prized by asparagus lovers. Proper British asparagus has an amazingly sweet, fresh grassy taste, similar to peas - only better.
We enjoyed it simply steamed and dipped soilder-style into soft boiled duck eggs, accompanied by some air dried ham and brown bread and butter. This must be what angels eat.

Simple is best where asparagus is concerned. I love it adorned with hollandaise sauce or even just butter and a spritz of lemon. It is also great quickly griddled on the BBQ, even better served with a "fondue" of Brie or Camembert (wrap a whole cheese in a couple of layers of foil and stick it over the coals until it melts, then dip said asparagus into the molten gooey cheese!).

Another favourite is an adaptaion of Jamie Oliver's recipe for Beautiful Courgette Carbonara. Probably not completely authentic, but it is indeed beautiful and only improved by the substitution of asparagus for the courgette.

And yes, eat too much and asparagus can make your wee smell funny. It can even turn it green. The science-y bit says that this is because of sulphur-containing amino acids in the spears that break down during digestion. I won’t be giving that a second thought though as I tuck into yet another bundle of the first taste of summer. Get your fill before it's gone for another year.

Pasture Lane Asparagus
Richard & Sally Spilman Lodge Farm, Helperby, York


  1. Definitely the food angels must eat!

    Although we've found asparagus eaten the day it's picked doesn't make your wee smell at all, and then in proportionate amounts as it gets older!

    Still, smelly wee is a small price to pay.

  2. Yum but just reminded me that we have missed collecting the wild asparagus here this year. Bummer.