May is U.K. National Asparagus Month

May is National Asparagus Month in the U.K., but since asparagus is one of my favorite foods, I intend to celebrate it here in the U.S. as well. The celebration is sponsored by British Asparagus Growers.

The British Asparagus web site features more than 80 recipes “developed by a dozen celebrity chefs and accomplished food writers.” There’s also a long list of the health benefits of eating asparagus.

In the United States, the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board has an informative web site. The purpose of this site is to promote asparagus grown in Michigan, but there’s a lot of general information about the vegetable as well. Here are a few of their facts about asparagus that I found most interesting:

  • Asparagus is a member of the Lily family.
  • Under ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow 10″ in a 24-hour period.
  • The larger the diameter, the better the quality!

This site calls asparagus “one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables in existence” and “the leading supplier among vegetables of folic acid,” a fact that will appeal to pregnant women. Asparagus is also low in calories and very low in sodium. Check the nutrition page for a complete list of this vegetable’s nutrient value.

asparagus upright for cooking
Photograph from British Asparagus

You’ll also find instructions for several different ways of cooking asparagus here, including how to steam the spears in an upright position in a double boiler or tall pan. This method helps to prevent the tips from getting overcooked before the stalks are fully cooked. There are tips on how to store asparagus, including directions for canning and freezing. And, of course, there’s a collection of recipes for appetizers, soups, salads, side dishes, and entrees. And check the FAQ page for an explanation of why your urine smells funny after you eat asparagus.

The California Asparagus Commission also has lots to say to promote its product. Its recipe collection includes a special section of recipes for kids. The cooking section contains directions for stir-frying, grilling, and roasting as well as the more common methods of boiling, steaming, and microwaving. The FAQ page explains how white asparagus differs from the green variety and why the green spears are a bit more nutritious than the white ones. Also according to the FAQ page, “California, Washington and Michigan are considered the major asparagus growing states.”

A couple of weeks ago we bought red asparagus at the farmers’ market. The sign said the red variety is more tender and less fibrous than the green kind. We steamed it up, and I did think it was a bit less fibrous. But I was surprised to find that when I sliced the stalk, it was green inside, with just a very thin red outer layer. I tried looking for information about red asparagus, but all I could find was references to herbal supplements made from red asparagus root, which is a different plant.

In the past I’ve also seen purple asparagus. On the web site of Aspara Pacific Ltd., an asparagus breeding company in New Zealand, I found this information:

Pacific Purple is a new “super-sweet” asparagus variety. Its distinctive dark purple spears have gained immediate acceptance in markets in Europe, Asia and north America. Pacific Purple tastes sweeter, has less fibre and more anti-oxidants than green asparagus.

Bred by Aspara Pacific, Pacific Purple produces a very high quality spear that is dark purple in colour from tip to butt. The spears have a slightly larger diameter than most green varieties.

Dual Purpose- Very tender spears and high sugar content means Pacific Purple can be grown as a dual-purpose variety for purple or for super-sweet white asparagus.

The Romans had a saying, “Quick as asparagus,” which meant essentially “very quick.” No matter how you prepare this spring vegetable, it will be deliciously ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

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