It’s asparagus time! We can always tell what’s in season by the abundance of a fruit or vegetable at the Saturday market. Our area produces lots of kiwis so when it seems as if all of the vendors have those on display we know it’s winter even if the cold temperatures didn’t tell us that already. Since we live so close to Spain, those local fruits are joined by an abundance of lemons, oranges, and other citrus that ripen at the same time south of the border. Sometimes Mother Nature is so generous that in addition to the regular fruit and vegetable stalls that we see every week there will be pop-up displays of farmers selling just one product as was the case this week. Everyone had asparagus: green, white, purple; as thick as your finger or as thin as spaghetti; gathered wild (featured photo above) or from carefully tended fields; mostly local, some from Spain, but none from the French region of Bretagne that we know in English as Brittany. No Brittany spears.
From what I read, the Egyptians knew about asparagus as early as 3000 BC and Caesar Augustus had soldiers gathering it for him to serve at special dinners. In France, Louis XIV wanted it available all year long so his gardener had to develop methods to grow it in sheltered locations. Nicknamed the “Royal Vegetable” because of its exclusive main consumer at that time, easier to grow varieties and cultivation practices were introduced in the 19th century that made the spears available to a much wider audience.
Although the growing of asparagus may have begun around Paris to satisfy the king, it has spread widely including to our area with 25% of the country’s production and to the even more prolific sandy soils of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, hence their festival mentioned below. Out of roughly 3000 producers, however, there’s only one in Bretagne, Bigoud Génération, that we salute above with their packaging from So Ho Communication.
True fans of this delicious vegetable will find festivals around the country from now into the middle of May. One of the largest is La Fête du L’Asperge du Blayais (link below) in Étauliers, north of Bordeaux, with cooking demonstrations, concerts, dozens of food booths, and a Battle of the Chefs that culminates in the creation of a giant omelet that uses 4000 eggs and 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of asparagus.
La Fête du L’Asperge, April 30-May 1, 2022: http://www.lafetedelasperge.com/