Celebrate the best of British produce with the arrival of asparagus season, says our esteemed food columnist…
Traditionally, the asparagus season is a brief one: running from late April until late June. But thanks to milder winters and clever growers, that season is getting longer. Still, now is the best time to enjoy this delicate spring vegetable. It’s obviously tough for British growers to stay ahead of the game, but I reckon most thoughtful foodies will put British produce in their baskets when it’s in season.
One producer who has really put some thought into combating overseas competition is the Chinn Family, who grow asparagus in the Wye Valley, Herefordshire. This year, because of the ultra-mild winter, I was offered the Chinns’ first small crop of asparagus in January. Psychologically, it just didn’t feel quite right so early in the year – it actually tasted fantastic though.
A couple of years ago I received a box of asparagus in September from the Chinns, and presumed they were having a bit of fun with me. What I learnt was that the Chinns had managed to cultivate a second season crop of asparagus. For me, this changed the way we wrote menus in the autumn months. Some restaurants may have imported asparagus all year round, but for me it’s always been a spring thing. However, being able to celebrate British spears twice a year is a great celebration of the way British farmers are working these days.
At the Oyster and Chop House, we showcase the in-season spears in a section of their own on the menu. There are weekly changing dishes including steamed asparagus with classic Hollandaise, and a salad which incorporates cooked tips and raw, thinly shaved stems with leaves of wild pennywort. We occasionally stick an asparagus fondue on the bar menu with a dipping sauce made with Black Cow Cheddar from Dorset with a splash of Black Cow Vodka (made with the by-product of the whey from the cheddar). If you wait until asparagus is in season, then indulging in dishes like these is a true celebration of British produce.