Crowning glories. . .

SPARROW GRASS 1I SPOT a box of asparagus crowns next to the till in one of Orgiva’s many ironmonger’s shops. According to the label on the box, they are 45 cents each. The last time I bought asparagus crowns, which was for the allotment eight or nine years ago, they cost about twelve quid for ten. So I buy ten crowns and a bag of red onion sets. The bill comes to six euros. I am so chuffed with this purchase. Exuberantly overjoyed would not be an overstatement. . .

Out in the street, my wife’s chatting to Andy the Cornishman. Exhibiting the impatient pride of a hunter-gatherer returning to his settlement with a pig under his arm, I show them my asparagus crowns. They are obviously impressed.

Andy tells me that the locals gather wild asparagus here in the Alpujarra, but keep the locations secret. Knowledge passed down from father to son, that sort of thing. For them to divulge the secret would be like me telling you people where the best mushroom field is in North Yorkshire.

A popular myth, and one I was rather fond of, is that the name asparagus is a corruption of sparrow-grass, a term still used in certain parts of Britain and one that was thought to evolve from the shoots resembling sparrows pecking about in the soil. Not so. And the shoots don’t look like sparrows anyway
A popular myth, and one I was rather fond of, is that the name asparagus is a corruption of sparrow-grass, a term still used in certain parts of Britain and one that was thought to evolve from the shoots resembling sparrows pecking about in the soil. Not so. And the shoots don’t look like sparrows anyway

The next day I start work on my asparagus bed. I dig a big hole, which looks a bit like a grave for a bent man, shovel in a load of compost and horse manure, scatter a layer of topsoil, and place the crowns on the upper layer. I then backfill the hole with most of the remaining soil.

Slender asparagus shoots should appear late in the spring – but they must not be harvested this year. They must be allowed to develop into tall, wispy ferns, which absorb energy from the sun and store it in the roots. Next year, I’ll be able to take a few shoots while the plant expands its root system. In two years’ time the bed should be entering full production. It’s a lengthy process, but worthwhile if you like asparagus. Not so worthwhile if you don’t.

SPARROW GRASS 3Apparently, the ancient Egyptians were keen on asparagus, as were the Romans. According to Wikipedia: “Asparagus is low in calories and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fibre, protein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, as the asparagus plant is relatively rich in this compound.”

With all those trace elements inside me, I’ll be leaving detectable trails all over Europe. I hope the Russians don’t get the blame.

Any-ow. Just to show what a good sport I am, the best mushroom field can be found on the moors above Richmond, near the village of Hurst – a field used for grazing sheep bordering the track to Owlands Farm. One fine September afternoon, my wife and I filled four carrier bags with every size and shape of mushroom under the Yorkshire sun.

owlandsAs they say in Yorkshire: where’s there’s muck there’s mushrooms. But not much asparagus, appen.

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16 thoughts on “Crowning glories. . .

  1. Good to hear you have been out hunting and fortune has smiling mildly at you.
    Thanks for the information on healthy nutritional values in asparagus, that I remember.
    As for trace elements you need to keep away from Polonium-210 it is said to be extremely unhealthy in tea, and surely in many other beverages.
    Best wishes,
    Hanna

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hej Hanna. Lots of things go nicely with tea – lemon, mint, jasmin blossom, milk, bergamot and ginger snaps – but polonium 210 is one I haven’t tried. I might give it a miss, thank you very much.
      All the best, Alen

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  2. You obviously enjoy your asparagus to go to such lengths. I’m not sure I could wait that long! Growing up in NI in the 50’s and 60’s I don’t think I even knew what asparagas was until we moved to live in the south east of England. On a day out to the Vale of Evesham we saw so many stalls outside smallholdings selling them that we bought many bunches of them. We have loved them ever since! Keep us posted on their progress!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ash. Likewise, I hadn’t had much experience of asparagus until I started growing it a few years back. Once my allotment was established with traditional veg (spuds, cabbage, onions etc) I began experimenting, and asparagus was relatively successful. The beauty of it is that once the bed is in full production, very little work is required during subsequent years.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Whereas I have no personal knowledge of or about asparagus, except that back in the Seventies (Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads) it was a social faux-pas of great magnitude to eat the wrong end of it. Whichever that is.

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    1. I don’t remember that episode but I bet Thelma was something to do with the asparagus! Great series – and one of the few sitcoms that made the succcessful transition to the big screen.
      All the best, Alen

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  4. I thought they were beansprouts when I first saw the picture. I’ve had asparagus twice: the first lot were fantastic, the second lot tasteless. I’m presuming the quality comes down to where they’re grown and harvested.

    Grave For a Bent Man sounds like it should be the name of a Nightwish album.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two-way process this, Chris. I’ve never heard of Nightwish, but if they want to borrow the title they are more than welcome.
      Apparently, the asparagus-growing centre of the universe is the Wirral, which is over your way somewhere.
      Cheers, Alen

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  5. Mmmm, Asparagus, my fave. I like it grilled or even better, barbecued after being coated in olive oil and lightly salted and peppered – ridiculously delish!!

    Meant to ask you Alen, how did your olive oil turn out?

    Cheers,

    Alan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Blimey, I wasn’t hungry till I read this. I’ve never eaten it grilled, never mind barbecued. I’ll try that in two-years’ time when it’s ready.
      The olive oil is a lot greener and murkier than I expected – nothing like the stuff in the supermarket. In a 25-litre container it looks like low-grade motor oil. Tastes okay though.
      Cheers, Alen

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  6. What a great find, Alen, and an exciting project! I remember my gran having an asparagus patch, massive it was, but she never cooked it herself – it must have all been sold to visitors. She and my grandad had a smallholding, and used to sell veg to passing customers. So although I grew up knowing what asparagus looked like on top, I never knew much about what was underneath! Not till I grew up, anyway! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thanks for that, Jo. I was beginning to feel I was in a minority of one when it came to appreciating asparagus. Sounds like your gran knew what she was doing. I hope my patch comes up to scratch!
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

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