YOU owe it to yourself to eat asparagus when it’s in its prime cut fresh from the field.
The taste surpasses bland supermarket asparagus which may have been imported and stored for weeks on end before being sold.
Shirley and Peter Stevenson have been running Wash Farm in Halstead for 30 years.
The farm stretches down the banks of the River Colne and is home to five acres of asparagus fields which are at their best right now.
They cut out the middleman and sell directly to customers, so if you have the chance to go there you will be able to buy freshly cut asparagus bundles.
Shirley says: “The best way to eat asparagus, in my opinion, is as simply as possible.
“Steam them until they are al dente with some goat’s butter, parmesan and Maldon sea salt.
“It is perfect finger food for children too, the aim is to get the butter smeared across your face by the time you’re finished.”
Wash Farm was established 30 years ago when Peter and Shirley started growing strawberries.
They then moved onto growing different fruits and in 2000 they started to grow asparagus.
Shirley says: “We would go to farming conventions and heard the stats on importing asparagus and we decided to sell straight to the consumer and cut out the middleman. We started with growing asparagus on one acre of land and it has grown to five acres.
“You can buy asparagus from the supermarket all year round. I stick to the eating it in season. I am biased but why would I buy out of season when we grow it on the farm and eat it fresh?”
She believes that eating the asparagus soon after it has been cut makes it taste so much better.
“They are cut, washed, graded and bundled and sold. No hydro cooling and storing for two weeks. Sometimes people have been walking across the field and the asparagus has been cut and sold on the field! We have also let people cut their own asparagus which always goes down well.”
So is it difficult to grow asparagus?
“The soil here is probably not the absolute most perfect soil for the asparagus because they like sandy soil. However it is nice soil as the farm is on the banks of the River Colne.
“The key is to prepare the soil and make sure there are not any perennial weeds. We stop cutting the asparagus on June 22 on Summer Solstice otherwise you risk depleting the soil.
“It can take around three years to get going with growing asparagus but it’s worth the effort. If all else fails come to Wash Farm!
“The owners of the restaurant Square and Compass, in Terling, are regulars to the farm for ingredients. They really do believe in local producers and get their asparagus from us. Also The Little Book Cafe in Halstead get asparagus from use and make dishes to serve in the cafe.”
Other restaurants in the south of Essex, such as the Pipe of Port in Southend, make the most of fresh asparagus on their menu.
Ros Watson, head chef at the restaurant for the last two and a half years, says: “We source our asparagus from a place in Canewdon where it is grown from a house in the middle of nowhere.
“We get a call each year to ask if we want any asparagus and we say ‘yes please’! We blanch them very simply and finish them with butter and parmesan.
“There is too much mucking about with food these days, if the flavour is there then we at Pipe of Port say keep it simple.”
Little Book Cafe
Claire and Chris Buskan owners of the The Little Book Cafe have been running for three years.
They champion local producers including Wash Farm and use the ingredients in the dishes they serve in the cafe.
The most recent seasonal dish on the menu is an asparagus and smoked salmon quiche.
Claire says: “We love to support local producers and also get the best ingredients to use in our dishes at the cafe. The quiche is a great spring time dish that brings together three ingredients that really get along well. It is best served with a mixed green salad and a few buttered new potatoes.”