Thank you for dropping by. I've been looking forward to your visit. I've so much to tell you about asparagus. Now where will I begin?
Firstly, I’m the most delicious vegetable, and nothing looks and tastes better than fresh, new-season asparagus. You need to know that I'm royalty. My family were given the title ‘king of vegetables' by the very-clever ancient Egyptians, and we have been prized and respected ever since. Throughout the ages, we've become the symbol of good taste in food, with many a chef earning his fame and fortune from his ability to cook us to perfection!
Yes, you've guessed it. I'm an asparagus and have a crown (a term I'll explain later). I've lived underground now for many years t, producing tender young asparagus spears each spring, early summer and again in early autumn.
My crown is an underground stem from which my asparagus spears shoot. My spears are tender, slightly glossy, about 18-25cm long and 1.5-2cm wide, with many small, triangular ‘scales’ (called bracts) in the top quarter of the stem. You can tell the best asparagus because it stands straight and tall.
My spears come in green, white and purple colours. They’re harvested in two ways which give us a different colour.
White asparagus is grown below the ground and not exposed to sunlight. When harvested, white asparagus is cut below the surface before being lifted from the soil. These spears are usually thicker than green and purple asparagus. When my spears are allowed to grow in sunlight, they turn a most delightful green colour. Green asparagus is the most well-known member of my family.
I also have a cousin, the purple asparagus, whose spears are grown and harvested like green asparagus – they are from the trendy side of the family. And there’s also baby green asparagus - they’re the short members of the family.
The peak Australian asparagus season runs from late August to December. Some growers, however, pick limited late season or a secondary crop between January and March.
There are three main types of asparagus grown in Australia, Green, White and Purple, which are relatively new to the market. However, in greengrocers’, asparagus is sold by colour, not variety. As I’ve said, there’s also baby asparagus.
Why do you think we have been given the title ‘king of vegetables’? It's because we are wonderful to eat and very good for you. Let me explain.
Select firm, crisp spears with tightly closed tips to pick the best of us. Thick spears are very tasty to eat and have a better shelf life than thin spears.
After buying us, stand us upright in the fridge in a glass of water. Cover with plastic or a damp paper towel. If our bases are trimmed off beforehand, it will help us stay fresher longer. Our shelf life depends on careful handling. We’re best eaten within 3 days.
As I mentioned before, we are noble plants with an ancient history. Our ancestors grew wild throughout Europe, North West Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and still do today.
A painting on an Egyptian tomb, dated to 3000 BC, shows asparagus tied in a bunch, similar to what is done today. Egyptians thought so much of us that they offered our spears as a gift to the gods.
We were also favoured as a great delicacy by the Greeks and Romans and thought to have medicinal value. The Greeks harvested the wild plants, but the Romans used both wild and cultivated plants.
We lost popularity after the fall of the Roman Empire but survived in Syria, Egypt and Spain. In the Middle Ages, asparagus was reintroduced to Europe during the Arab conquest and, after that, became a prized delicacy throughout the Continent and Britain.
We were so highly regarded in England that the thought of setting up a colony on the other side of the world without asparagus was unthinkable, so the seed was included in the list of vegetables carried by Sirius, one of the ships of the First Fleet.
Throughout the 19th century, asparagus appeared in many seed catalogues and has continued to be popular with Australians ever since.
Make sure you try these great asparagus recipes from Sydney Markets: