I make no apologies for waxing lyrical about asparagus. William Wordsworth had his daffodils, and I’ve got my asparagus.
As soon as everyone’s finished heralding in the New Year I’m out in my back garden staring at my vegetable patch as my wife Jo’s chickens Chloe and Dubby peck around my feet.
Even though I can’t see it, I know that a few inches under the still frozen ground a priceless green treasure that makes chefs and restauranteurs go misty-eyed is inching towards the surface millimetre by millimetre.
Asparagus is more than just a vegetable – it’s a state of mind.
To me it represents the coming of spring, and a chance to look forward to richer pickings and a burst of colour after the long harsh winter nights of the north Norfolk coast.
Asparagus isn’t ready to harvest until the end of April. Anything you get served on a plate before then has likely been exported thousands of miles from South America or grown under polythene.
I buy my asparagus from my good friend Johnny Cave, who grows more than 100 acres of it every year at his farm in East Rudham. It grows naturally.
And I roughly know how Johnny’s crop is coming along because he gave me half a dozen asparagus plants five years ago and I’ve pretty much been obsessed with them ever since.
Once you’ve planted asparagus you can’t harvest it for the first three years, so it has time to root properly. You just have to put it in the ground and forget about it. It’s tough.
This spring will see me pick my second asparagus crop. Last year I counted 91 spears from six plants.
Every morning from mid-January onwards I go into the garden and check the soil for tell-tale signs of their green and purple spears splitting the surface and pointing skywards.
When they eventually emerge I’m overcome with a feeling of near euphoria. It takes incredible self-control not to scratch away the earth from around them when they finally appear.
They’re so tantalising. It’s almost like they’re teasing me. Watching and waiting is part of the fun for me. The chickens must think I’m mad.
I start to imagine what they’re going to feel like when I harvest them, and what they’ll taste like at the end of April, plunged into boiling water for no more than a minute and served shaken in a bowl with butter and Maldon sea salt, or side by side with a poached egg and drizzled with hollandaise sauce.
According to Johnny this year’s crop promises to be a corker.
But remember, you’re not supposed to pick them after the summer solstice on June 21st. It’s bad form. The asparagus season is a short one – so gorge yourselves on them while you’ve got the chance!