Melton Mowbray has its pork pies, Bakewell has its tarts and now Evesham in Worcestershire is to be officially linked to British asparagus.
Vale of Evesham Asparagus – known locally as Gras – is expected to be the last vegetable in the UK to be granted EU protected regional status now that Brexit has been triggered.
Evesham has long been considered the ‘capital’ of asparagus growth – with growth of the delicacy dating back to 1768 – and the town is currently celebrating its annual British Asparagus Festival. But now its status is official, putting Vale of Evesham asparagus among just 78 food and drinks with Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status including the likes of Scotch whisky, Champagne, Cognac, Parmesan, Cornish pasties and Jersey Royal Potatoes. It is hoped this status will grow sales and boost tourism to the area.
This news gives locals even more reason to celebrate, although they’ve long been making a noise about their produce at The British Asparagus Festival, which was launched in 2006 with the help from The British Asparagus Growers Association. The festival has grown in popularity with crowds of visitors flocking each year to meet Gus the Asparagus Man and join in the fun of marking the season of spears. The Vale asparagus season runs until Wednesday June 21 and includes many events including an Asparagus Family Fun Run on Sunday May 28; asparagus auctions at the historic Fleece Inn on Sunday May 28 and June 4; the Asparagus Music and Food Festival from Friday June 2 to Sunday June 4 at Ashdown Farm, Evesham; and the National Morris Weekend from Friday June 16 to Sunday June 18. See below for more info.
As well as the annual fun and games, there are some seriously tasty asparagus dishes to sample. The incredibly versatile vegetable can be boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted or barbecued, and is a favourite with chefs keen to utilise the best of British seasonal produce. As well as being delicious, asparagus is packed full of nutrients including high levels of Vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin K and vitamin C. It is also low in calories and is rumoured to be an aphrodisiac.
Asparagus producers who want to mark their product ‘Vale of Evesham Asparagus’ will now have to meet EU criteria and be grown within the district areas of Malvern Hills, Wychavon and Stratford upon Avon boundaries.
Official guidelines describe Vale of Evesham asparagus as having a flavour that resembles that of fresh peas and is brittle and crunchy to the taste.
The government document says: ‘Cooked asparagus takes on the full flavour of mellow nutty artichokes, and has the aroma of faint grass and fresh peas which can vary according to the temperature during which it is harvested.
‘The sandy soils of the Vale of Evesham asparagus fields provide ample depth of soil for crowns to establish deep root systems with which to store the sugars produced during the summer. This promotes the health of the crown and gives an additional sweetness to the crop.’
Head chefs Sue and Mark Stinchcombe, from Eckington Manor, in Pershore, are staunch supporters of Worcestershire asparagus for its consistently delicious flavour and size.
Mark says: “We have an incredible supplier that we work very closely with he is only two miles away. Sue has been using Paul Haydon from First Gras in Birlingham for 10 years and he knows exactly what size we want. We think it’s incredible sweet and has a beautiful nutty flavour.” More on Eckington Manor
For the perfect English wine pairing, Steve Brandwood Sales Director of Worcestershire-based Sixteen Ridges, suggests matching asparagus with Sixteen Ridges “Bacchus”, a dry, crisp wine with aromas of crushed basil and a punchy palate of gooseberries.
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