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asparagus green femalefocusonline april24By Rhona Wells - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Throughout recorded history, people have adored asparagus and though culinary tastes frequently change over the years, this luscious spring vegetable remains as sought after today as it was centuries ago. Originally native to western Asia, northern Africa and most of Europe, the arrival of the annual asparagus crop is still regarded as an epicurean event celebrated by special fetes in certain areas of our own Marina Alta.

Spain is expected to produce 44,000 tonnes of asparagus this year, 1000 tonnes more than in 2021, and this demand is expected to increase year on year for the foreseeable future.
Of the total produced by Spanish growers some 40% will go to the domestic market, with the remaining 60% currently being exported, mainly to France, Germany and Switzerland. However, new target markets are being energetically pursued in a variety of exotic locations, including Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern destinations, as well as to America and Japan.
The asparagus season in Spain typically runs from April to July. During this time, we can all enjoy fresh and flavourful asparagus from various regions. Spanish asparagus comes in different varieties. The white asparagus is grown under rows of banked earth, shielded from sunlight. It is considered a rare delicacy due to its labour-intensive cultivation process. In Europe, chefs almost always use the highly prized white asparagus, which offers up unique luscious notes of corn and artichokes.
To cook white asparagus, scrape the outer skin gently before immediately plunging into boiling water, to avoid discolouration. Boil with a touch of olive oil and salt for precisely 16 minutes before draining, and serve at once with hollandaise sauce. This method, according to a local Xàbian market trader and self proclaimed asparagus expert is the best way to make the most of this seasonal delight. I can only say that it certainly worked for me.
Unsurprisingly, in addition to our own region’s small fetes, some parts of Spain celebrate the asparagus with its own designated festival. Since its inception in 1932, the Fira d’Espàrrecs Gavà (Gavà Asparagus Festival) held in Barcelona has trumpeted the annual arrival of the highly prized Spring delicacy. It is one of Spain's oldest ongoing culinary fairs—interrupted only by the Spanish Civil War and, more recently, Covid.
Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus was said to have organised elite military units to search out this vegetable. He would then find the fastest runners to take the fresh asparagus spears into the frozen Alps for storage purposes. He also coined the term ‘velocius quam asparagi conquator’ which means to do something quicker than you can cook asparagus similar to our ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’. Ancient Greeks also harvested wild asparagus and connected this vegetable to their goddess of love, Aphrodite. Numerous other cultures have also considered freshly sprouted asparagus a symbol of fertility.
The asparagus plant appeared in an Egyptian frieze about five thousand years ago, with Queen Nefertiti allegedly also an asparagus fan. Archaeologists found traces of asparagus on dishes when excavating the Pyramid of Sakkara, along with other coveted foods such as figs and melons.
In Ancient China, honoured guests were treated, upon their arrival, with an asparagus footbath. When the Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) of the powerful Habsburg Empire decided to visit Rome without warning anyone of his arrival, a sense of panic ensued because the emperor had arrived during a time of fasting. One clever cardinal prepared three different asparagus recipes. They set the plates on perfumed cloths and offered the emperor three exquisite wines – and he was said to praise the delicacies he was offered for years to come.
French monasteries included this plant in their gardens 600 years ago – and, if you wanted to please the Sun King, Louis XIV, you could bring his second wife, Madame de Maintenon, a new asparagus recipe. She gathered them into a book and asparagus soup á la Maintenon is still prized today.
For centuries, people have included asparagus in their Easter dinners because its fast growth in the spring symbolises resurrection.
Modern-day plant expert Fritz-Martin Engel has effectively summed up the types of people who have appreciated asparagus over the centuries: “Pharaohs, emperors, kings, generals, and great spiritual leaders, princely poets such as Goethe and gourmands like Brillat-Savarin - all of them ate and eat asparagus with great enthusiasm."
Whether you prefer white, green or wild asparagus, Spain offers a delightful array of flavours during this season.