Reversing autumn

We find out how we are able to tuck into English asparagus this Succot.

By Anthea Gerrie, October 17, 2011
Fresh autumn asparagus

Fresh autumn asparagus

There is nothing that shouts spring like the first British asparagus. We leap on it in April, steaming, simmering or slathering it with vinaigrette and hollandaise, and mourning the fact it will all be over by June.

But now M&S have found a way to create a second British crop to make fresh asparagus an autumn treat as well.

"We were determined to find a way to extend the availability. Customers always complain the season is so short, so we have been working for five years to try and change it," says M&S agronomist Dr Simon Coupe.

"We went on several study trips with our grower, John Chinn, who travels the world researching asparagus, and in the Mediterranean we discovered a special new variety that we thought could grow in the UK," he explains.

"We then worked out a careful plan for feeding and watering and found it flourished in the Wye valley during autumn."

The result is Reverse Season asparagus from grower John Chinn, which will be the shelves in 300 M&S stores throughout this month - if you can find it.

"We are selling out, despite the £1 per pack price differential," says Dr. Coupe. "We have Peruvian asparagus on the shelves at the same time, as we believe in giving customers the choice, but they are so passionate about the British product it gets picked up first."

It is undoubtedly a treat, but the gastro-snob may find there is something uncomfortable about autumn asparagus. Just as the taste of our first fig or pomegranate of the season at Rosh Hashanah is special, so is the delight of that first fresh, green asparagus spear in April.

With many fruits now available almost throughout the year, it has remained one of the few foodie treats we are deprived of much of the year, and as we have all just discovered over the fast, a little denial can be a good thing. After a day without, everything tastes delicious.

Nonetheless, this asparagus is home-grown and has travelled relatively few miles to grace our plates, so we can eat with a clear conscience and get over the weirdness.

Autumn asparagus can stand a more robust treatment than simply poaching and serving with a bowl of hollandaise. At Chez Panisse restaurant, in California, patron Alice Waters came up with an asparagus dressing which tastes like autumn on a plate. The stalks are poached until al dente and served warm or at room temperaure in vinaigrette and dressed with finely chopped beetroot and hard-boiled egg. This looks even more beautiful if a mix of green British asparagus and the purple Peruvian sold at Sainsburys is used; the latter is tender enough to be eaten raw.

Ingredients for two people are 8 stalks each of green and purple asparagus, one small beetroot, peeled and finely chopped and roasted at 200°C for half an hour, one finely chopped hard-boiled egg, and a vinaigrette made with 3 tbsp olive oil and
1 tbsp sherry or balsamic vinegar, well seasoned with salt, a touch of mustard and a pinch of sugar.

More good news is that when the new late-season asparagus disappears in early November, the wait for the main spring crop will not be as long as usual. M&S has been working with John Chinn to extend the British spring season at either end from March to July.

Last updated: 11:47am, October 17 2011