Asparagus in autumn – surely not?
I am a great fan of asparagus. I cannot get enough of it. As this year has seen the first crop from my new allotment (yes, I know everybody just has to have one) I have been served very well. The slightly offensive production of – amongst other things – methanethiol, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide bis(methylthio)methane and dimethyl sulfoxide aside, it has to be one of the tastiest vegetables going and a great harbinger of spring.
So, with autumn now firmly upon us – it has to be as ‘Autumn Watch’ is on the TV and ‘Autumn Watch’ is broadcast at the right time unlike ‘Spring Watch’ which goes out in early summer – why am I taking this opportunity to write about asparagus?
The prompt came not from the science journals or newspaper technology pages, but from the colour mag’s recipe pages. However, when looking for the reason for their featured tasty pictured asparagus treats I learned that a pioneering UK company had produced a ‘second season’ for asparagus. Immediately I suspected that the plant cloners had been about their magic again. I mean asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) has been around a long time now – it was being eaten in Egypt some 20,000 years ago and there is a recipe for it in Apicius’s cookbook – the oldest surviving example of that venerable class of tome. Surely advances in cultivation must be down to our new generation of applied botanists?
I have a lot of time for plant cloners, having once shared a laboratory with a research team who were doing very interesting things with the Major Oak – making Major Oaklets actually. This Nottinghamshire tree has some claims to being one of the most famous in the UK and possibly the world, attracting some 600,000 visitors per year. Although, sorry to disillusion them all, but Robin Hood never did sit underneath it or hide inside it. However, the 10m wide tree has been around some 800-1000 years and that deserves a round of applause. Not quite in the same league as the Californian Bristle Cone pine Methuselah which clocks in at 4,800+ years but worthy of note when everywhere around you people are after an easy source of firewood. And it seems my Major Oak cloning colleagues, or their colleagues were finally successful as Major Oak clones are commercially available online – prices start at £300! Not bad for a ‘slice’ of history, eh?
However, it turns out that autumn cropping asparagus owes nothing to the gene monkeys or related laboratory manipulators. In fact it is down to the development of a new farming technique. Wow! The asparagus spears, normally picked in spring are allowed to develop into ‘ferns’ until July, building energy reserves in the root ball, then water is withdrawn before mowing and then the late spears pop up!
I must admit that, in these days of hi-tech cloning and genetic manipulation, I find it strangely reassuring that quite a significant advance in food cultivation can be made by attention to improved farming practice.
Yummy, pass me a filo-wrapped spear, please!