English asparagus is one of the culinary delights of the year. Green, white, steamed or raw, with a hint of butter or doused in hollandasie; now is the time to eat as much as possible

English asparagus’s growing season traditionally spans St George’s Day (23 April) to the longest day (21 June). Nothing beats it. It feels quintessentially native and provides a delicious, fresh, green vegetable with a distinctive mineral tang after months and months of cabbages. Asparagus was first introduced by the Romans. This young shoot from a cultivated plant of the lily family came back to our shores in the reign of Henry VIII. Such was its popularity that by the 18th century we grew more asparagus than any other country, according to the compendium England in Particular.

What makes English asparagus so special?

What makes English asparagus, particularly homegrown, so special is its freshness compared to spears flown thousands of miles from South America. Growers testify that the spears taste best of all shortly after cutting, with all their mineral flavours and sugars intact. If you happen to live near a farm shop or grower, you can enjoy asparagus fresh from the field; the best shops strive to get it on to the shelves within a day of picking. Look out for firm spears with tightly furled tips.

Look for tightly furled tips when picking English asparagus

Look for tightly furled spears when picking English asparagus

The Vale of Evesham is one of the historic centres of cultivation of English asparagus. There, you still get half-acre growers who sell at the gate. This beautiful part of England hosts an Asparagus Festival that includes a charity auction. Held at The Fleece Inn at Bretforton this involves around a thousand people cramming into the 14th-century courtyard to bid for “rounds of grass”, as they are known. The asparagus auction is this year on 28th May, although the wider festival kicks off on 23rd April. Highlight of the sale is a “hundred” of grass (the traditional 120 spears). These are still tied in withy stems (willow stalks) that are picked and buried underground over the winter to make them supple, then stripped to make twine to tie the spears.

How to cook English asparagus

Asparagus is best cooked and eaten simply. You don’t require an asparagus steamer. Garden and food writer Sarah Raven recommends laying the spears in a large frying pan with a lid, pouring hot water on to the stalks and boiling quickly with the lid on until the spears go bright green (no more than five minutes). Boiling and steaming are not the only ways. Tossing the spears in oil and char-grilling or quickly roasting in the oven also works well. When wonderfully fresh, nothing beats simply melted butter and a little light seasoning with English asparagus.

Wooden trug containing stems of freshly cut asparagus on brown striped tablecloth on white table

When it comes to cooking English asparagus, keep things simple with this super, fresh ingredient

Another traditional growing area is the north-west. The plant likes the sandy soil in the fields amid inland dunes around Formby (the plant likes sandy soil). The area is having an asparagus revival and the National Trust has set up an asparagus trail so you can follow its history. One grower near here is Andrew Pimbley of Claremont Farm on the Wirral. He says there’s a reason the season ends on the longest day: if you don’t stop cutting the spears for food, the plant’s ferny tops won’t grow to replenish the crown with nutrients. These enable it to produce healthy, fat spears the following year.

What goes well with asparagus?

What to drink with your asparagus? In keeping with the St George’s Da theme, Jonathan Ray recommends a fine English Bacchus as the liquid accompaniment. He says: “The 2021 Tuffon Hall ‘Amelie’ Bacchus from Essex (£16.50: Private Cellar) is a great place to start. It is all fresh, lively and full of elderflower. At the other end of the scale there’s the mighty 2020 Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Bacchus from Kent, wild fermented and oak-aged but still retaining that inimitable elderflower zest.

But if English Bacchus ain’t your thing, head to New Zealand or the Loire Valley and grab a fine, zingy Sauvignon Blanc. For example, everyone’s favourite Kiwi Savvy Blanc, 2022 The Ned ‘Waihopai River’ Sauvignon Blanc (£9.99 if you mix 6; Majestic) or the gorgeously succulent and elegant 2020 Domaine la Croix Saint-Laurent Sancerre ‘Caillottes’ (£22.95; Corney & Barrow).

Love English asparagus?

It is often said that asparagus is an aphrodisiac. Why not try our oyster and asparagus recipe and find out! Its appearance is certainly ‘suggestive’ and most plants grown these days are male because they produce the most vigorous, thrusting spears. Furthermore, asparagus has a good whack of folates. Folic acid is thought to benefit sperm and is one of the few micronutrients recommended as a supplement to expectant mothers.

Eating English asparagus is all the more satisfying if you're grown your own

Why not have a go at growing your own English asparagus?

Given that English asparagus is so delicious and good for our health and happiness, why not have a go at growing it yourself? Ideally, asparagus needs a sheltered site with free-draining soil. The Royal Horticulture Society website has lots of useful tips and advice. You can also buy asparagus crowns from the Society, such as ‘Connover’s Colossal’, which is popular and particularly hardy variety.

Want to learn more?

If you enjoyed this article, please check out our wide selection of English asparagus recipes, including asparagus and gruyere soufflé and asparagus and almond soup.