" I look forward to asparagus like my kids look forward to Christmas," says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; " I positively yearn for the first spears to charge up through to the soil...It's annual arrival is a treat,' comments Valentine Warner; '“One of those great British ingredients worth waiting for is English asparagus," agrees Mark Hix.
So revered is this quintessentially British ingredient that as a nation, we export none of it, keeping all the delicious, quivering spears for ourselves. And who can blame us?
This year, we've got even more to be excited about. Traditionally, the British asparagus season runs from April 23rd to 21st June. However, although we usually harvest in late April, even early May following exceptionally cold winters, this year has been a record breaker with our first crop being picked on April 10th and being sold in the farm shop literally an hour or two afterwards. That's a fortnight earlier than usual!
Part of this 'asparagus adoration' is because of what it symbolises, for many, being the seasonal game changer, the first crop of spring vegetables heralding the arrival of warmer weather. For others, it's because of its ephemeral nature; not only do first crops take three years of patience before they can be harvested (seed to serving), but the season is so short. Two months and it's all over. The message is: 'enjoy it while you can'.
There are also many, many health benefits associated with this verdant vegetable: packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folic acid, iron and rutin, it's disease busting, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, boosting the immune system and, ahem, the libido.
For others - and as farmers we have to agree - it's the fact that the ingredient has to be so fresh to be appreciated, the quicker the time between harvest and hotplate the better. Former chef and considered by many to be the best cookery writers working today, Simon Hopkinson, puts it better than we could, saying, "I believe that English asparagus spears taste so good not simply because they are 'English, but because they are harvested and transported to the shops as quickly as possible...freshness is all."
But for most, it's quite simply the sheer nutty deliciousness of a tender, lightly cooked stem. Roasted, steamed, pan-fried, it doesn't matter, but who can resist the draw of a spear dripping with butter, or a softly boiled egg - hollandaise, if you're really pushing the boat out. One of our favourites, though, is pan-fried in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and draped in parmesan shavings.