When we were children asparagus was a treat but not a luxury. My dad had an asparagus bed which must have been about 30 or 40 foot long which he had made himself; he had bought the crowns, I don’t know what variety, I wish I did, maybe it was Connover’s Colossal, a very old variety first introduced in the nineteenth century, and recommended in a book my mum bought him, Practical Gardening and Food Production in Pictures, by Richard Sudell. She bought it for him in the first year of their marriage, 1948.
He was a good and industrious gardener, and there was a very practical reason for him to be so; to put fresh vegetables on our table every day of the year. So a big asparagus bed in lovely sandy Cambridge soil, very well-manured produced our favourite vegetable throughout the late spring and early summer. We always had asparagus with white sauce, which I guess is how my grandma served it. My sister was a fussy eater but she loved asparagus, we all did!
This is what Ambrose Heath and Dorothy Daisy Cottington-Taylor have to say about asparagus in the National Mark Calendar of Cooking:
Nothing surpasses carefully cooked asparagus! But, being a rather delicate vegetable, it is readily spoiled by bad cooking. The common mistake is to overboil it, so that the buds are more than tender and break away from the stalks.
The time to allow for cooking naturally depends on the size, age and variety. It is, therefore, necessary to use one’s judgement.
Tie the asparagus in bundles of about seven or eight and cook slowly in boiling water until tender. Remove very carefully to obviate breaking.
An excellent way of cooking asparagus is to place it on a fish strainer in a steamer or fish kettle, as it does not require lifting but can be removed gently in the strainer into a vegetable dish, after the water has been drained away from it.
Asparagus is best when served hot with oily butter; there are, however, other ways of treating it.
A popular way is to serve it cold with vinaigrette sauce. This consists of the following ingredients:- 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of tarragon vinegar, 1 tablespoonful of malt or chilli vinegar, 1 teaspoonful finely chopped National Mark parsley, tarragon and chervil, and two chopped gherkins.
The stalks can be served whole and eaten in he same way as when hot, or the tips only may be dished in a salad bowl or vegetable dish with the dressing over them.
Just slightly off the point of asparagus, but back onto one of my favourite hobby-horses, people who think there was no decent British cooking until European restaurants came to London in the 1950’s should just look at the ingredients here, which Mr heath and Mrs Cottington Taylor expected ‘the housewife’ to know and have, olive oil, tarragon vinegar, chilli vinegar, herbs parsley, tarragon and chervil and gherkins…
A lovely site all about asparagus…