Saturday, 08 May 2021

Pick your own wild garlic and asparagus

MY Aunty Lesley possesses an astonishing assortment of useless kitchen paraphernalia. Catalogue purchases: Chef’n StemGem strawberry

MY Aunty Lesley possesses an astonishing assortment of useless kitchen paraphernalia. Catalogue purchases: Chef’n StemGem strawberry huller, boiled egg slicer, slow cook Crock-Pot, Butter Mill Dispenser, pickle pickers. Her asparagus kettle is the most daft and pricey. All useless cooking equipment is costly.

Asparagus kettle: slim pipe-shaped tall pan, wire basket insert. Fill with boiling water, thicker asparagus stalk at the bottom, tips at the top. Boiling water at the base cooks the chunkier ends, boiling steamy water at the lid cooks the tips.

I’m no physicist — boiling water is boiling water. Aunty Lesley is a terrible cook. Turn the asparagus sideways and cook it in a normal pan with plenty of boiling salted water, although you lose all the flavour to your water. Try boiling or steaming vegetables in a plastic bag, which keeps their flavour. Better still, barbecue or chargriddle asparagus — delicious.

I’ll patent a tall tubular spaghetti kettle to compete with asparagus kettles on wedding gift lists.

The Debrett’s guide to etiquette suggests the proper way to eat asparagus is with one’s fingers. Her Majesty does it this way, licking hollandaise off the royal fingers. For this reason there’s no need to peel the stem or snap off those ends. Cook them as they are, eat as far as the woody part, sucking out the juices and leave the stubs on your plate.

Traditionally English asparagus makes a short annual appearance from St George’s Day to Midsummer Day. However, with polytunnels, advanced growing techniques and global warming, the season now encompasses March to August. We don’t export any British harvest, we eat the whole lot ourselves.

St George’s Day heralds a few other favourites: Jersey Royals, samphire, wild garlic, sea trout and St George’s mushrooms.

Buy fantastic local asparagus from Luxters Hambleden Winery (grown at Dorney Court). Gabriel Machin’s usually has local asparagus. Better still, pick your own at Hildred’s (, Lartons, in Mapledurham, or Copas, in Cookham ( Part of the lily family, store it upright in a pot of water. It was called sparrow-grass in Shakespeare’s day.

I’m cooking a May wedding reception and the bride’s just had a last-minute change of mind on starters — swap asparagus for gravadlax because she’s worried asparagus will make the loo smell. Scientific study confirms sulphurous compounds in asparagus produce uniquely pungent urine. The Usain Bolt of the vegetable world, asparagus can grow six inches in 24 hours. Perhaps it’s the aphrodisiac properties that deterred my bride. A bride’s prerogative.

My favourite way to enjoy asparagus is to brush it with olive oil, slowly grill it on a ribbed griddle pan (if the griddle is too hot the olive oil smokes and the asparagus burns before cooking). Season with Maldon sea salt and a twist of black pepper, and serve with a greedy dollop of wild garlic pesto.

Wild garlic appears at the same time as asparagus. Forage for it locally — find it in woodland, usually among the bluebells, not supermarkets. It has distinctive thin long leaves and a pungent scent. Unlike cultivated garlic, you eat the leaves not the bulb. Its taste is more delicate, similar to garlic chives. Wild garlic flowers, which are also edible, will help you identify the plant. Six delicate white-pettaled heads form a rough globe that look like miniature exploding fireworks.

It is around until June and will freeze — roll loads of leaves into a tight bundle and wrap in clingfilm before freezing. I prefer making a pesto, which keeps refrigerated for months. Toast some walnuts, then pestle and mortar them with wild garlic leaves, olive oil and grated parmesan — a food processor will also suffice. Store it in an airtight jar. It’s delicious with asparagus.

• Catch Paul Clerehugh every week on Food On Friday, BBC Radio Berkshire, at 2pm. There is light-hearted food chat, recipes and a kitchen helpline.

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