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Ingredient of the summer: asparagus

An ancient summer vegetable with a fascinating story, here’s why asparagus is our ingredient of the season.

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Part of a flowering species sometimes called ‘sparrow grass’, it’s the young shoots of this perennial plant that are used as the summer vegetable we know as asparagus.

A much loved ingredient by chefs worldwide, asparagus isn’t just a modern favourite when it comes to cuisine. In fact, asparagus has even been seen depicted on an Egyptian frieze that dates back to 3000 BC! Furthermore, the oldest surviving recipe for preparing asparagus was found in a cookery book dating back to 3 BC.

The Greeks and Romans were such fans of asparagus, they found inventive ways to eat it year-round. They would eat it fresh when it was in season, and dry the vegetable so it could be eaten other times of year too. Roman Epicureans – who celebrated the works of the philosopher Epicurus – even froze asparagus sprouts high in the Alps, and defrosted them especially for the Feast of Epicurus.

The Roman statesman Augustus was particularly fond of asparagus and even developed the ‘Asparagus Fleet’, which was a means of harvesting asparagus. He also coined a term based on his favourite vegetable that took off in a big way – ‘faster than cooking asparagus’ had the meaning of ‘quick action’ in Roman times!

Asparagus is native to Europe – particularly Germany, Spain and Ireland – but only became an ingredient used a little more widely in England during the 1500s. The timing of harvesting asparagus is crucial, as the shoots must be young in order to be tender and pleasant to eat. Left too long and the texture of asparagus quickly turns woody.

Although asparagus has been around for a long time, it’s a particularly popular ingredient at the moment, at a time when foodie wellness and eating less meat are topics on peoples’ minds. Not only does asparagus taste fresh and distinctive, it is also a great source of vitamins B, C, E and K, as well as calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium and zinc. It’s also full of antioxidants, which help the body fight free radicals.

To celebrate asparagus being one of the top ingredients of the summer, we’re serving a burrata, asparagus, spring onion and radish salad in The Lock Bar and Kitchen. Combining the creamy Italian heritage of burrata with a little seasonal pep from spring onions and radishes, this is the perfect way to enjoy a taste of the summer by the River Thames. We’re also serving asparagus with halibut, Jersey Royals and a chive butter sauce in our exclusive Dining in the Dome menu.

Get down to The Runnymede faster than you can cook asparagus (!) for a summer filled with seasonal goodness.

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