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Bundles of joy

Just outside Liverpool grows some of the best asparagus you'll ever eat. It's meant to be an aphrodisiac, but is that really why people are getting so steamed up?

Published on January 14th 2010.

Bundles of joy

You can draw your own conclusions on that one, yet you might be surprised at the number of events up and down the land, currently taking place, to celebrate the UK's blink-and-you will-miss-it asparagus season.

The whole shebang runs from now till just June 21, so there's every reason to take a quick note if you really like tasting your food.

Formby, whose sandy soils have long loomed large on the culinary map for producing a particularly famous variety, is staging an eat-in during June. It is even going so far as to book “asparagus friendly music” for the event: An opportunity for Britney Spears perhaps?

There is also much hey-nonny-noing of the morris dancing variety at the British Asparagus Festival in Evesham later this month.

But kicking it all off in Bebington this weekend were the very affable people at Claremont Farm. They held their own take, complete with Lancashire master chef Brian Mellor sweating over a gas barbecue. He entertained a large, attentive crowd, all munching bacon and asparagus butties and sagely nodding in the pouring rain.

Somewhat controversially, Claremont, which supplies many of Merseyside's aspirational restaurants, claims that its version of asparagus is superior to the stuff that grows near the Sefton dunes. Having cooked and eaten both in the last few days, Liverpool Confidential feels that it is a close call, but if anyone from Formby fancies a bit of aggro over this agricultural assertion, we will happily stir things up a bit more so do get in touch.

The USP about any asparagus from these parts must be that it isn't from Peru - the only kind you can buy in this country for 40+ weeks of the year. So it's the real deal; it actually tastes of something, if not rather a lot. And it will have some nutrients left when it reaches your plate just a few hours after leaving the ground - and we don't mean Lima airport, 12,000 miles away.

You can barbecue it, slice it on the diagonal for stir fries, boil it briskly for 4-5 minutes and cover in melty butter for Bridget Jones moments.

Oh, and when preparing it. “Run your fingers up the shaft,” says Brian, “and then, wherever it feels right, just snap it in two.”

Sexy? Are anybody else's eyes watering?

Claremont Farm Asparagus with Fresh Hollandaise Sauce (kindly supplied by Mark at the London Carriage Works)

For Four

The best in-season asparagus has such fantastic flavour that this simple yet classic combination is the best way to appreciate it, says Mark.


24 Claremont Farm asparagus
2 Tbsp of Maldon salt

For the Hollandaise

2 large shallots
300ml white wine
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
2 egg yolks
250g butter

The original finger food

  • Wash and peel the asparagus.
  • In a pan, bring some water to the boil with 2 tbsp of Maldon salt.
  • Once boiling, drop the asparagus into it for no more than 2 minutes, refresh in a bowl of iced water.
  • Peel and chop the shallots, put them in a pan with the white wine, black peppercorns, bay leaf and sprig of thyme. Reduce by half, pass through a chinois (conicle sieve) to create a liqueur.
  • Melt the butter and carefully remove the opaque film from the top to clarify.
  • Put a pan of boiling water on the hob with a glass basin on top (a bain-marie). Taking care not to overheat, add the egg yolks to the liqueur and hand whisk (this will emulsify it to a “ribbon” or custard consistency). Add the butter in small quantities until it’s all incorporated, season and spoon the sauce over the asparagus.

Asparagus Tip

Ideal to serve with fresh grilled oily fish like tuna, salmon, sea trout or mackerel.

Recommended Wines

Bourgogne Blanc: Pierre Bourée et fils 2004. France. (Boutinot)Malborough, Sauvignon Blanc: Babich Reserve Black Label 2006. New Zealand. (Justerini & Brooks)

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