March 7 2015 Latest news:
Michael Pollitt, Agricultural editor
Thursday, April 3, 2014
A taste of summer has arrived more than a month earlier last year as the first Norfolk asparagus was cooked in the field yesterday.
Breckland farmers Tom and Caroline, who supply local shops and London wholesalers with their St John’s Asparagus, decided to celebrate the launch of the home-grown season.
As some of the first bunches were picked from a field behind St Mary’s Church, Beachamwell, near Swaffham, the landlord of a nearby pub, Phil Hirst, of the Berney Arms, Barton Bendish put up a “pop-up restaurant.”
His enthusiastic chef, Alan Gallagher, then immediately started preparing a starter for about two dozen guests including farmer and county councillor Ian Monson and other neighbours.
Mrs Sanderson, who markets the asparagus and the farm’s lamb, had wanted to mark one of the earliest starts to the asparagus season with a launch last week but cool weather and some frosty nights slowed the crop’s growth. “It has really grown on in the last few days and we just wanted to celebrate the start of the season,” she added.
Her husband, Tom, who grows a total of 130 acres of asparagus, said that the milder weather has really encouraged the early growth. The harvest started almost a month early than last year as the first bunches, which have been grown under miniature plastic polytunnels, were picked.
“We had a terrible year last year and virtually nothing was picked until early May because it was so cold,” he added.
Mr Sanderson, who is a member of the Asparagus Growers’ Association, has protected about a third of an acre with polythene to encourage an early start to the harvest but even in the intervening unprotected rows, some tips were already showing.
The field, which was being picked, had been planted four years ago but was now in its second year of commercial production. The light, sandy soil was ideal for the variety, Gijnlim, which has also been planted as crowns for picking in a year or two.
“The asparagus has grown and grown,” said Mrs Sanderson. “The more I sell, the more he plants,” she added. Their shop at St John’s Farm will open on April 20 until June 21 but they also supply other local retailers.
Mark Daisley, of the Manor Farm Shop, Fransham, who opened his shop off the A47 in the centre of the village with his wife, Sarah, in 2002, took delivery of the very first few bunches on Tuesday. “As soon as the asparagus sign went up, we’d soon sold a box and half. We have a good clientele and we sell a lot,” he added.
Landlord Mr Hirst, who re-opened the pub about four years ago, will be using the locally-grown asparagus through the crop’s short season in a range of dishes. His chef, Mr Gallagher, said: “I fully intend to take the asparagus season as short as it is and exploit it for all that its worth.”
He prepared a starter, poached asparagus in lightly-salted, quickly boiling water, which was served with a poached egg. “Absolutely perfect. A great start to the season,” said Mrs Sanderson.
What’s your favourite asparagus recipe? Write to EDPletters@archant.co.uk
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.