Asparagus is brain food

This super delicious spring veggie has anti-aging properties that may help our brains fight old age! Plant some now and it will take three years from planting asparagus crowns for the first crop to be ready, so put the date in your dairy! Growing this gourmet vegetable is very easy and once established will remain productive for at least 10 years, and maybe up to 20.

Shop bought crowns should be planted in April, which is the same time an established plant is ready to harvest, so prepare the ground well in advance.


Position your asparagus bed where it gets as much sun as possible. Clear the soil of weeds and maybe incorpoate some sharp sand to improve drainage.


Dig a trench 25cm deep and 30cm wide. Fill the bottom with a thick layer of well-rotted organic matter and use the soil excavated from the trench to make a mound in the centre of the trench onto which you can place the crowns with their roots spread out so the tops are at the height of the surrounding ground


Cover the mound with soil that it forms a heap around 7cm high over the crown. Each plant should be 40cm apart in rows 45cm apart.


For speedy results buy one-year old crowns, which in a couple of years will be productive. Water the plants occasionally and feed in spring with a handful of Growmore or blood, fish and bone per plant. Cover the plants with mulch in autumn to insulate the crowns from the worst of the winter weather.

When the ferny foliage turns yellow in autumn, cut it down to 1within 5cm of ground level


Harvest asparagus in spring when the tips are 15cm tall. This when they are most tender and flavoursome. As soon as production is underway, you will need to check the bed every couple of days to harvest the spears and stop harvesting in the last week of May, allowing them to develop and produce foliage, which through absorbing sunlight will feed the crown

Use a sharp knife to cut the spears, removing them about 3cm below the soil surface. Cook and eat them immediately as they won’t store well.


Slugs and asparagus beetle can devastate a crop, so set slug traps (beer traps and copper tape barriers work well, and keep your eyes peeled for the beetles.

Asparagus beetles are easily recognised by the black and white marks on their backs with orange on the lower sides and near the head. They are about 6mm long and begin laying their eggs on the spears as the grubs ready to feed as soon as they emerge


Pick off the light brown, oval shaped eggs and adult beetles and dispose on them. Then at the end of the season cut off the dying foliage when it has completely turned yellow and get rid of it.


If you decide to grow asparagus from seed, sow them March and plant them out in the garden when they have been hardened off and all danger of frost has passed. Your seed-raised plants will become productive in 2-3 years time.


IT’S A FACT!


Asparagus plants are either male or female. Male plants produce more and better spears so many modern cultivars are male. The male variety Mondeo (marshals-seeds.co.uk) produces high-quality spears with handsome-purple tips. From five crowns you can expect around 100 spears every year. Mondeo is also a good variety to blanch but you must give plants three years to establish before you consider blanching.

Mondeo has great disease-resistance to rust and produces plants with attractive, tall ferny growth


If any female plants do appear in your asparagus bed, they will be noticeable because they produce orange-red berries. If you are growing a male cultivar, you will need to remove any female plants as well as any seedlings that appear.

 


The harvesting season traditionally starts on St George’s Day, April 23 and continues until the summer solstice, which is on June 21


White spears


For the last five years, white asparagus has started to appear in UK shops. White asparagus is the same as green asparagus but grown without daylight by layering soil over the spears or covering them with a pot to exclude all light as they develop to prevent photosynthesis from taking place, which produces the green colouring in plants. It’s very popular in Europe and especially Germany where it is eaten in abundance when in season, but not so in the UK.

If you decide to grow your own, you’ll find that it is slightly sweeter, but has less fibre than green asparagus. White asparagus produces a thick outer skin, so must be peeled before cooking as it is too stringy to eat


The traditional way of cooking white asparagus is in an emulsion of water, butter, lemon juice and salt, which is brought to the boil and the asparagus added and gently simmered for anything between eight and thirty minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. It is best to let the asparagus cool in this liquid to retain flavour and moisture. It’s a good side dish for chicken and duck.

Steaming is another popular cooking method and also roasting and grilling on the barbecue.


Purple spears


Purple asparagus is bred to be purple in colour, but turns green when it is cooked. Purple varieties tend to have thicker spears, but fewer of them.

Marshalls Pacific Purple is one to grow as it is so sweet and tender that it can be eaten raw in salads


Why eat asparagus


The Ancient Greeks believed that asparagus possessed medicinal properties and used it as a relief for toothache.

Asparagus contains more folic acid than any other vegetable. It is also a source of fibre, potassium, vitamins A and C and glutathione, a phytochemical with antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties.

Asparagus is said to have aphrodisiac properties. However, some people experience strange smelling urine after eating it due to sulphur-containing amino acids in the vegetable.

Asparagus contains a sulphurous compound called mercaptan (which is also found in rotten eggs, onions and garlic). When your digestive system breaks down mercaptan, by-products are released that cause your urine to develop the distinctive smell. This happens within 15 to 30 minutes of eating asparagus but not everyone is affected. Your genetic makeup will determine whether your urine has the pungent odour, or indeed whether you can actually smell it!


RECIPES


The fleshy white stalk is not eaten, as it is much tougher that the delicate green tip, so the asparagus should therefore be tied in small bundles and stood upright in the saucepan to cook. A pinch of baking soda in the cooking water keeps the spears green.


 

You can enjoy asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil, a twist of black pepper and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese or wrap them with salty Parma Ham and grill for a tasty hors d’oeuvre.


Asparagus and eggs are a flavoursome pair. Simply put a fried egg on top of a pile of freshly boiled buttery asparagus or go for a classic hollandaise sauce. They can also be served with scrambled eggs or crab for a light lunch.


Asparagus soup



INGREDIENTS

1.5kg fresh asparagus

25g butter

1.5 litres chicken stock

2 tablespoons of cornflower

2-3 tablespoons of cold water

METHOD

Trim the woody ends from the bottom of the spears and cut into 3cm pieces

Melt the butter into a heavy saucepan and cook the asparagus on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is bright green, but not browned

Add the stock and bring to the boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Turn down the heat at simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the asparagus is tender.

Reserve some asparagus for the garnish. Season the soup, cover and cook for a further 15-20 minutes.

Puree the soup and thicken with the cornflour, which has been made into a smooth paste by adding the cold water.

Serve with a swirl of cream and maybe a spoonful of fresh crabmeat and garnish with the reserved asparagus.


Asparagus and strawberry gourmet salad



METHOD

50g sugar

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1-1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds

3/4 teaspoon grated onion

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

1/8 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

60ml vegetable oil

fresh asparagus, trimmed

fresh strawberries, sliced

50g crumbled blue cheese, optional

METHOD

In a Kilner jar, combine the sugar, vinegar, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion, salt if desired, paprika and Worcestershire sauce; shake until sugar is dissolved. Add the oil; shake well. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

In a pan, cook the asparagus in a small amount of water until crisp-tender, about 6-8 minutes; drain well then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Arrange the asparagus and strawberries on a serving plate; sprinkle with blue cheese if desired and drizzle with the dressing. 

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