The Romans had a special asparagus fleet, the Greeks worshipped it and even the ancient Egyptians had a go at cultivating nature’s finest sprouting vegetable – asparagus.
Asparagus is one of our favourite spring vegetables. It’s a flowering perennial which was once classified as a lily, like its cousins the onions and garlic. The word asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning ‘sprout’ or ‘shoot’. It has been used as a vegetable and medicine since 3000BC owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh whilst in season and dried it for winter consumption. The Romans would even freeze it high in the Alps for the Feast of Epicurus, which was held in mid January.
The graceful green spears of the asparagus plant have always been revered for their elegance and deemed a delicacy which only the wealthy could afford. The Romans went to great lengths to have asparagus on the menu throughout the year and Emperor Augustus was so fond of it that he kept a special asparagus fleet just to fetch it. A recipe for asparagus appears in the oldest surviving book of recipes from the third century, Apicius, meaning refined love of food. Julius Caesar first ate it in Lombardy and asked for it to be served with melted butter.
From ancient times to now, asparagus is a must for any top quality menu – and always goes down a storm.