No one has ever accused the growers’ group British Asparagus of spreading fake asparagus news, so let’s start with their asparagus facts. Eating it, they say, can help ease you through a hangover, can protect your liver and might also improve your libido.
What is indisputable is that asparagus is delicious. I am a die-hard fan and welcome the vegetable’s arrival each April. This year, conditions were good, and the crop majestic.
But no matter how much we would love to claim it, asparagus is not a British creation. It has been cultivated in continental Europe for around 2,000 years. Today, Germany and Spain are big producers, but outstripped by Peru, Mexico and the world’s biggest grower, China, which produced 7.3 million metric tons of it in 2021.
In Britain, we eat about 200m asparagus spears a year. Many are imported and I imagine not all the asparagus consumed here even at this bountiful time of year is homegrown. Indeed, last year, a study called our imported asparagus consumption arguably unsustainable as vegetables imported by air have an environmental impact around five times higher than that of produce grown in the UK.
Now, I struggle with endless laments from comfortable types who can afford to grace local greengrocers and buy heritage carrots and endless plum tomatoes. For so many families, supermarket food, where imported produce is most likely to be found, is the only option. Asparagus isn’t cheap and why should it be a preserve of the wealthy?
That said, I also believe good, sustainable food should be a priority, and those who can stretch to only buying bundles from farm shops and the likes might consider doing so.
But maybe more important of all is keeping seasonal. Asparagus grows in the UK during a set time, always has. Might that be the world telling us, at least suggesting the point, that we should pay attention to locality, seasonality, and making the most of what we have and when?
Anyone who decides to buy a bunch this year might consider recreating this dish by Lewis de Haas, head chef at Crispin in Spitalfields, London. Here, he combines asparagus with white crab and hard-boiled eggs. It is a wonderfully fresh, springtime dish, and a fitting way to hail the new season.
Asparagus with white crab meat and egg
Serves 2 as a starter
300g green asparagus
160g picked fresh white crab meat
1 egg (hard boiled, 8 minutes)
60ml lemon juice
80ml olive oil
6g sea salt
Trim the ends of the asparagus and blanch for 2 minutes in salted, boiling water. When cooked, place the asparagus in an iced water bowl to cool.
When cooled, slice the asparagus, place in a mixing bowl and mix with the crab meat, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Arrange on a round plate and finely grate the boiled egg white and yolk over the top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.