I 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.
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.
Apparently, 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.