photo of a bunch of asparagus spears

Asparagus, a herbaceous perennial plant, is generally considered to be a luxury vegetable. Quite simply, it’s expensive to buy because it’s expensive to cultivate. A newly planted asparagus plant takes three years to produce spears that are good enough to sell. Then it will only produce spears for a further three years. Therefore, a typical asparagus field will only give a yield for half of the time. Additionally, asparagus requires a lot of land as each square foot will only produce about one spear. And then these spears have to be harvested manually as there’s yet no way to harvest them mechanically.

Asparagus is graded by size, the ‘sprue’ being the slimmest and ‘jumbo’ the thickest.

Most countries eat white asparagus and this is even more expensive to cultivate as the spear must be shielded from the light.

White asparagus is a peculiar thing. I think so, but then I’m in a minority. I’m used to the green stuff, and I find white asparagus low in both texture and flavour. It is only in Britain, Italy and parts of the USA that eat their asparagus green. The rest of the world, and that includes most of Europe, eats it white. To keep it white, you have to build up the soil around it as it grows, keeping it underground and out of the light. You prepare the white as you do the green.

Source: Gregg Wallace: Veg – the greengrocer’s cookbook

Asparagus is a spring vegetable, and available in Britain from about May to July. Imports are available all year round but many people consider that locally grown veg tastes better than any which have flown half-way round the world.

Asparagus which is limp is past its best; the spears should be firm with smooth skin, and the heads (what some call tips) tightly closed. Asparagus requires very little cooking – the simpler the better – just boil, steam or griddle. It can also be eaten raw but cooked briefly is better.

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