This is the hungry patch. The time of year when the winter crops have all but finished, eaten (by us or the slugs…), gone to seed, or like the garlic, not ready to harvest yet. Thank goodness for lettuce. For leeks. For the first of the broad beans. And a big special thank you to the asparagus, which is in its fourth season in my home garden. Asparagus is the miracle green that bridges the gap between winter crops and the peas and beans that mark late spring.
To harvest asparagus, you eat the new shoots that pierce the soil; the spanking young shoots that head skywards. There’s no other part of the asparagus plant above ground at this time of year, so you’re eating the new life of spring. Because a plant needs to actually grow, you don’t harvest asparagus until it’s a few years old, and you have to stop harvesting in late spring or it won’t have enough energy left for next year’s crop.
At Puggle Farm, we have five crowns in the ground (asparagus grows from seed, or crowns; crowns being a quicker way to get a crop). At Fat Pig Farm, I’ve just sown seed in one 10-metre row, and another 12 crowns in the next. These are the first of our winter beds to be turned over. They have been dug down deep prior to their first planting. The soil is in very good nick, and in three years’ time (four from seed), I’ll be able to bend my head to the ground and bite the freshest spears from the earth.
If you’ve never tasted just-picked asparagus, you should. It doesn’t resemble the bought stuff at all. It is sweeter, yes, but it’s more, well, flavoursome in lots of ways, including being slightly nuttier. And cleaner tasting. It’s like rain water compared to chlorinated, I guess. If you’re used to one, the other can be a revelation. Picked within minutes of being cooked, and tossed with little more than a bit of walnut or olive oil or butter, asparagus screams seasonality. It heralds the true warming of the soil.
And it also grows pretty quickly when conditions are right. The long, fat spear on the (admittedly dodgy) photo is part of the first harvest of the season. I hadn’t checked the plants over winter, and obviously one had punched a long way towards the sun before I realised. Peeled up to about half way, it was sweet, tender, and magnificent. The thin spear was a bit tough, and harder to peel. The short ones? Well, all I can say is you should’ve been there.
With this spring flush comes a surfeit of eggs. Eggs so bright in the yolk that you almost need sunnies on when you cook with them. Eggs so deep in flavour that they’re almost as rich as commercial duck eggs. We’re even getting some 90g eggs off one chook, though I hope she doesn’t get into trouble with the laying.
Speaking of chooks, one of our young Buff Orpington chickens isn’t. Isn’t a chicken, that is. He’s a rooster, and now he’s started crowing, and helping Gordon, the other rooster, gang up on the girls, so his days are numbered. Some people dump their roosters in the bush. They can die of thirst, of animal attacks, and they trash the bush in the process. Some people dump them at the tip, and the tips do the culling. It’s hardly a humane way to treat an animal we have reared. It’s a strange thing to do, shirking responsibility for the life of a domesticated animal, perhaps in the mistaken belief that those doing it are being kind.
Our surplus rooster will go to a new home or into the pot. Not left in the bush to fend off quolls, other roosters, or feral dogs and cats, all the while doing inevitable damage to someone else’s (usually the community’s) land. If we rear them, it’s our obligation to look after them for their entire lives. As a friend put it recently (if perhaps a little harshly); a good life, a quick death, and a great sauce.