To celebrate National Asparagus Month, we thought we’d give you the BoroughBox lowdown on one of our favourite springtime vegetables. Asparagus season typically runs from late April to late June in the UK, and with patience, it can even be grown in your own garden (and it'll come back for 15+ years!).
Here are our top tips on how to grow and cook asparagus, as well as some unusual facts about the history of this mighty vegetable:
Where It Grows: China is the world’s biggest producer of asparagus, followed by Peru, Mexico, Germany, and the United States. The UK also has a great climate for asparagus cultivation (it has grown here ever since the 1500s).
Relatives: Asparagus is a member of the lily family (other relatives include garlic, onion, chives, and leeks).
History: Asparagus was referenced over 2,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, when it was used for medicinal purposes, and was offered as a gift to the gods. It was also consumed in Ancient Greece - and there was a link between asparagus and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love (asparagus was a sign of fertility).
In Ancient Rome, the Roman Emperor Augustus was known as an asparagus connoisseur, and there are records stating he had a fleet of ships dedicated to transporting this treasured vegetable. He sent elite military personnel to locate it, and even sent his best runners to carry baskets into the high Alps so it could be frozen and eaten later in the year. Now that's dedication!
Name Origins: The folk name for asparagus was “sparrow grass”, and it was adapted over the ages to have many forms, including “sparagus”, “sperach”, “sperage”, “asparages”, and finally to “asparagus” after the 16th century.
Varieties: Did you know that asparagus comes in a variety of colours? You can get green, purple, and even white asparagus.
Health Benefits: It’s packed full of antioxidants, as well as vitamin K (good for bone health and blood clotting), folate (a B vitamin that’s used by the body to produce DNA), vitamin A (good for vision, immune system and bone growth), and vitamin C (great for immune system, skin, and bones). (Source).
Fun Fact: White asparagus is made by forcing the plant to grow without light, and continuously earthing up soil over its spears (very popular in Germany, Holland, and Belgium).
Preparation Tips: A top tip is to remove the woody end of asparagus before eating, and the easiest way to do this is by snapping the spears with your hands, where they naturally break. If you like, you can trim off the young leaves that grow along the stem, but this isn’t necessary unless they’ve grown particularly big.
Growing Tips: If you’re planning on growing asparagus at home - patience is key. Asparagus farmers suggest that you shouldn’t harvest it for it’s first two seasons, and you should wait for the third for it to mature. After that though, asparagus comes back every year and can be productive for 15+ years (sometimes up to 30 years!) It’s a perennial plant, which means once it’s established, it’ll come back year after year (a lot of vegetables are ‘annuals’ - which means they need to be planted every year).
You can either buy seeds or asparagus ‘crowns’ from a garden centre which are the 1-year old plants. Plant it in early spring, and hey presto, hello asparagus spears!
Recipe Ideas: There are so many things you can do with asparagus! Generally - simple cooking is best, so you can admire its full flavour.
Steam it for a few minutes and have it with butter, grill/barbecue it with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and paper, or wrap it in bacon and roast. Asparagus pairs very well with eggs, so the possibilities are endless - asparagus omelette, asparagus frittatas, or even the classic brunch with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.
We hope you enjoyed our asparagus lowdown - have you got any favourite recipe tips? Be sure to tell us on social!