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Asparagus

Talk about period recipes & ingredients

Asparagus

Postby aunty rach » Tue May 17, 2011 8:37 pm

For my first question on this delightful forum...

When was asparagus first eaten in England? I have it in the back of my mind it was C16th and therefore haven't used it in earlier periods but does anybody know anything definitive?

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Re: Asparagus

Postby Elise_Fleming » Wed May 18, 2011 12:20 am

Not a real answer, but you will find asparagus listed in a 1615 English cookery book. (A recipe can be found at http://www.medievalcookery.com/search/display.html?nevvb:59:SPRK. However, asparagus was known in Spain much earlier - in the 1200s - and recipes for several dishes are in "An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century". Not English, but it shows that asparagus was available early on, even back in Roman times.

There's an Italian recipe from the 1400s from "De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine" which you can see at http://www.godecookery.com/goderec/grec83.html. Doesn't mean, though, that the English took to asparagus at that time any more than they took to forks when the Italians had them.
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Re: Asparagus

Postby Captain Reech » Wed May 18, 2011 10:06 am

Trawling the internet (I want to grow some in my allotment but I've limited myself to plants common pre 1500) there are various documents stating the arrival of 'Sperage' or 'Sperach' in England sometime before 1000AD but not giving any hard evidence for this date. I know it appears in Culpepper, Gerrards and some of the other Herbals but I can't pin a definite date on it yet. The word 'Sperage' is definitely Middle English in origin believed to be derived from the Medieval Latin Sparagus (Which in itself is a corruption of Classical Latin Asparagus)

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Garden+asparagus

http://www.world-foodhistory.com/2008/0 ... ragus.html

http://chestofbooks.com/health/nutritio ... ragus.html

Asparagus is reported as growing wild in some places on the South Coast, though if this is true wild asparagus or an ancient escaped cultivar I don't know. Some 19th Century books describe it as indigenous but most modern books refer to the introduction of the Cultivar from Spain via France.
Whether it was used as a food or purely as a medicinal herb in England before the 17th Century I can't decide, certainly I haven't come across any Medieval recipes for it yet (although, if anyone has found Sperach or Sperage in a recipe pre 1500 in England I would dearly love to know the source!)
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Re: Asparagus

Postby Captain Reech » Thu May 19, 2011 11:29 am

Elenna's done some proper book digging (as opposed to my random surfing) and confirmed that wild Asparagus is native to the South West of England, know since pre 1000 AD although more commonly used as a medicinal herb or as animal fodder than as a food. The interest in cultivating the plant seems (as Elise has pointed out) to have come from Spain via France, evidence of it achieving popularity as a luxury food in France in the 14th C (So very possibly available to the English Royalty/Nobility who seem to have spent quite a lot of time in France around then for some strange reason :lols: )

Evidence for it's availability on the open market? Elenna reckons late 16th (Gerrards Herbal 1597 so before then) which fits nicely with it appearing in Elise's 1615 cookbook as it would have been an established product by then and begining to be available further down the social strata.

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Re: Asparagus

Postby aunty rach » Mon May 23, 2011 1:13 pm

Thank Elenna for me. And thanks Elise too.

Looks like it is just that little too late, bother.
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Re: Asparagus

Postby Captain Reech » Fri May 27, 2011 1:07 pm

There's hope yet! We may have tracked down some info on the collection of wild asparagus in the UK! More news, as it breaks....

:lols:

I've decided to bite the bullet and fork out for 10 Wild Asparagus crowns this winter, it's too easy to grow (and too expensive to buy) not to have a crack at it. The Main problem will be waiting 2 years before pulling any!
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