Sunday, 5 June 2016

Herbs, Spices and Herbalists … brief history part 1 … and to start us off Asparagus …



In this series I shall be exploring the history of:


Herbs and Spices
… some herbs: the ‘grasses’ (Latin ‘herba’) or green crop that we know and use today as a leaf vegetable or in lesser quantities as herbs …


… spices: the products of tropical plants, aromatic roots, bark, seeds, buds, and fruits, usually in dried form, whether whole of ground.  Again the word derives from Latin … the Romans considered spices an important commodity …


Botanical aspects of Asparagus

… and herbalists – brief notes on interesting botanists, natural scientists, early recipes arising from travellers … many of whom would necessarily be peripatetic.




As it’s Asparagus season here in the UK – it appears (dependent on the weather) on St George’s Day (23rd April), or Shakespeare’s birth/death and continues til the Summer Solstice … it is a short six week - eight period of deliciousness!


Ready to cook ... 


It’s an amazing plant which has been used as a vegetable and medicine, particularly as a diuretic, for more than 5,000 years: it appears on an Egyptian frieze.


It has been eaten in season, and dried for use in winter, while the Romans even froze it high in the Alps, for the Feast of Epicurus - a date during the winter month of January.


De  re Coquinaria
Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” just for collecting the vegetable – as he liked to eat it all the year round, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action – gosh they’d have had to react very quickly!



A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes: Apicius’s 3rd C AD De re Coquinaria, Book III.



The Glory of the Perfumed Garden
The plant drew little attention until the Middle Ages and al-Nafzawi’s “The Perfumed Garden”.  That piece of writing celebrates its (scientifically unconfirmed) aphrodisiacal power … I leave you to read all about it!



It is 93% water, low in calories and is very low in sodium … it’s the additions we add to asparagus that make it not so healthy – lots of butter, hollandaise sauce, or a cheesey topping …




Parmesan and breadcrumb coated ...

For any gardeners: it thrives in soils that are too saline for normal weeds to grow … but don’t salt your soil, otherwise nothing else will grow!    Move house so that asparagus can thrive by the sea?!  I hadn’t realised it was a maritime plant – that likes to grow by the seaside - where it originated from …


Here are some other health benefits
according to Healthy Food Science.

In England we tend to favour the green asparagus, not the white asparagus of Continental north western Europe … but both are considered delicacies.


This is the start of a Herb and Spice series that I shall write … as and when, interspersing these posts with others that I get around to write …


The health benefits of asparagus poster was posted by Jo On Food, Life and Bowling ... she posts wonderful recipes on her blog.


Part 2 will be on the history of gardening ... 


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

58 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Mmmmm asparagus. I adore the stuff. Emperor Augustus knew luxury when he came across it.
Each spring I make a primo vero risotto with the first of the asparagus, some new peas and mushrooms. Bliss.
And, having enjoyed it fresh, canned/bottled asparagus is decidedly a thing of the past.

D.G. Hudson said...

I like asparagus and we have it often. I usually just roast it in the oven or saute it in a pan. I prefer it that way.

Karen Walker said...

Love asparagus. Someday maybe I'll be inspired to start my own garden. Sigh!

Out on the prairie said...

A delicious vegetable here, many even go looking for where it is growing wild.I have grown to like it, as a child my mother overcooked it.

A Heron's View said...

Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables whenever it is available
I buy it and on Friday I bought two bunches.
I never knew it originated at the seaside though but then don't suppose that ever occurred to me either. Just goes to show that you can learn something new every day :-)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Not a favorite vegetable of mine. I'd have to eat it like celery - loaded with stuff that negates eating something healthy.

jabblog said...

I didn't know it was a diuretic or that it grew well by the sea. Fascinating facts . . .

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC - I too love asparagus and just make 'hay' while the veg is in season. Your rimo vero risotto sounds delicious and I do love risotto ... I agree I can't take the canned or bottled stuff ... fresh is best.

@ DG - it is good isn't it - and you've chosen a good way to cook it - I love it roasted as well ... but normally I just boil it and have it with butter, or mayonnaise/herby dressing ...

@ Karen - it is good isn't it ... well that's a good goal you've got in your mind ... I hope you start a garden sometime ...

@ Steve - yes I can understand the wild asparagus hunt - it's so good ... we just don't have that sort of space for people searching for it wild. Yes over cooking vegetables is a great sin - but so glad you've got your taste buds back for it ... and no doubt keep (cook) your veg al dente ...

@ Mel - I certainly buy a fair amount now it's in season - too good to miss out on. I know you'll have enjoyed yours. I didn't realise it was a seaside plant either ... the sand and then the salty breezes allowed the plant to adjust and settle in ...

@ Alex - ah well - all the more for us ... and celery too ... but can understand your dislike of it - it is definitely an acquired taste ...

@ Janice - I didn't know that much about asparagus either ... except I'm fond of it!

Cheers to you all ... so glad 6/7 enjoy asparagus! Finally we have some sunshine and warm weather here ... Hilary

Inger said...

Oh, I'm looking forward to this. I know it will be so interesting and we will all learn something new and interesting from your research. As we did here. Thanks for this, my friend. I love asparagus and don't cover it up with anything. It's really not needed.

DMS said...

I love asparagus- but didn't know all the facts you shared here today. I have never seen white asparagus. :) Thanks for sharing!
~Jess

Rhodesia said...

We love herbs and spices and have a good selection in the garden. We tried asparagus but after 7 years gave up as it did not like our soil or so it seems! Great post and so interesting.
If I disappear for a month next week it is because (French strike permitting!) we are going overseas and I will not be taking a laptop. Therefore posts will be very limited on the nexus and comments also. I will be back mid-July. Keep well Diane

Anabel Marsh said...

I love herbs and spices - the spicier the better! So I would say asparagus is a little bland for my taste, but I still enjoy eating it.
The Glasgow Gallivanter

Janie Junebug said...

I've never been an asparagus fan. I am a broccoli and raw spinach woman. The information is interesting, as always.

Love,
Janie

bazza said...

Mrs Bazza's favourite lunch is asparagus with a poached egg. Personally I never been able to see the attraction. There is a restaurant in Bruges where, at this time of the year, they serve a three course meal where every course contains asparagus - including the dessert!
I am generally a big fan of herbs and spices, particulary tarragon. Now I'm looking forward to the rest of this series!

Vallypee said...

Oh yum, Hilary. I just love asparagus, but you're right, it isn't all that exciting on its own, so the cheesy sauce is what makes it...and what makes it unhealthy!

Rhonda Albom said...

Asparagus is my favorite cooked veggie. I always eat it steamed or BBQed, never really thought about recipes - and I had no idea cookbooks were that old. Interesting to learn it has medicinal purposes - especially since the meds they make me take now to fly are also a diuretic. Maybe I could just eat more asparagus.

H.R. Sinclair, Southpaw said...

I'm 50/50 on asparagus. I like the younger, more tender variety.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I love fresh asparagus, but I've only had the green. I'd like to try the white one of these days, too.

Weekend-Windup said...

Enjoyed reading your most. Nice to know more information...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Inger – thanks so much for the encouragement … and I’ll find it interesting too – already am. Yes sometimes I cover it ... but usually it’s as it is …

@ Jess – I too learnt some interesting historical information … and that white asparagus we get here in the UK .. but usually in Germany is where I’ve seen it.

@ Diane – yes I know you’ve got some wonderful herbs going … it is not an easy vegetable to grow and needs nurturing without being fussed over. Well done for trying – but frustrating you couldn’t get it to grow. So glad you enjoyed the post.

The French strikes are a pain … but have a happy trip – and time out from blogging … lots happening in France at the moment … soccer – til it comes out of our ears?! Not my scene.

@ Anabel – me too … but I tend to go for the tastier now, rather than too spicy foods … but I do love asparagus – glad you enjoy it at times too …

@ Janie – broccoli and spinach are good too … the asparagus season is short … if one eats it seasonally, which we tend to here in the UK. Glad you enjoyed the post.

@ Bazza – well I’d say your wife has very good taste – sorry you can’t share her love of the vegetable … still more for her!

Interesting about the restaurant in Bruges – obviously when I visit I need to go at this time of year … so I can at least try the dessert.

That’s great … tarragon is on the list … lots of interesting snippets to come along …

@ Val – I love it fresh … but it does need a little extra – I’ve been eating it warm with some mayonnaise recently – but as you say unhealthy … still summer fruits are a-coming and I’ll be healthier then!

@ Rhonda – I just love asparagus cooked all which ways … so I’d be happy with steamed or BBQed. I know it’s so interesting to think about recipes that are “so old” and early cookbooks or tablets as these would have been.

There’s so many medicinal purposes that are now being seriously investigated from the different plants … well that’s a good idea re the flying aspect and your health … not so sure about the constant sulphur smell?

@ Holly – usually it’s a hate or love vegetable … but the young shoots are that much more delicate …

@ Susan – we don’t tend to see the white asparagus that much here in the UK – in tins yes. It tastes similar, but doesn’t quite have the same ‘feel’ about it …

@ Weekend Windup – good to see you and thanks for commenting.

Cheers to you all – we’re into lovely sunny weather now – thank goodness … make such a change … and that asparagus will be bounding up! - Hilary

Optimistic Existentialist said...

It is asparagus season here in Germany and I have been loving it. I love to have it with hollandaise sauce drizzled over the top...YUMMY

M. Denise C. said...

Well, I knew it was a diuretic, but what an interesting post about asparagus. I might have to have some steamed asparagus this week thanks to your post!

Gattina said...

Interesting post ! I love asparagus, in sauce, or simply cooked everything !
I am back home !

Lynn said...

Sounds as if I should be eating more asparagus! I roasted some for dinner guests a couple of weeks ago - a hit!

Mason Canyon said...

When I was young, I couldn't stand asparagus. Now as an adult, I love it with a touch of butter and a sprinkling of cheese. Enjoyed learning more about it. Thanks, Hilary.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Your post is an absolute lovely post. Now let's talk about asparagus. I could not bring myself to eat it until last summer. You know what? I love it!!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Keith - so good you're enjoying asparagus in your new home of Germany ... yes and hollindaise sauce is a delicious accompaniment isn't it ...

@ Denise - glad you knew about the diuretic elements ... but that's great if you're going to enjoy some this week ...

@ Gattina - welcome home ... yes asparagus is special that's for sure ..

@ Lynn - it is certainly good for you. Lucky dinner guests - if you like asparagus it'd be a hit ... glad it was.

@ Mason - that makes sense - our tastes change and we adjust to the different foods out there ... like you I love it with butter, and with some parmesan or however it's served ...

@ Teresa - how funny - but I'm glad you tried it again and now love it - hope you're eating it now with relish ...

Cheers and thanks so much for supporting this first post in the series - Hilary

Chrys Fey said...

I like asparagus. I always cook mine, but I want to try it without cooking them. It's weird that they need saline soil but are low in sodium.

Joanne said...

you make me want to try asparagus again. It's not been something I seek, but maybe I've never had it fresh or prepared correctly. I know it's good for you (well, without the rich sauces,etc). I look forward to more of your series.

Bish Denham said...

Oooo, love me some plain steam asparagus with a little butter. It's one of few fresh veggies I can eat! Had no idea it's been eaten for as long as it has or that it prefers saltier soil.

cleemckenzie said...

You've posted about one of my favorite veggies. I love making it the way you showed with the parmesan cheese. Makes great appetizer instead of cheeses. I didn't realize this delicious food had such a long history! Lovely to learn about it.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I cringed at the sight of that beautiful asparagus drowned in bread crumbs and cheese. What a terrible thing to do to such a tasty vegetable!

(Now reading the comment above mine. LOL. Different tastes for different people!)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think people either love or hate asparagus. It is one of the few greens that I don't care for. I had no idea it has been around for so long and was so cherished.

Sherry Ellis said...

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. I've made the parmesan and breadcrumb coated version many times.

Rosalind Adam said...

We grow asparagus every year - the green variety - but although this was said to be a good year, our harvest has been poor.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Chrys - I'm not sure I'd be happy eating them raw - which is odd for me since I'm a great exponent of all things raw. Slithers of asparagus I'd try, or very very early shoots ... I'm sure I'll give it a go at some stage. Yes perhaps it's the crowns that need the saliney soil ..

@ Joanne - yes it is delicious very lightly cooked - al dente ... but the butter or hollandaise just gives it a little zest ... or lemon juice with butter. That's great you'll be happy to see more of the series as I post them ..

@ Bish - how interesting you can't eat other veggies, but love asparagus. The history of foods is fascinating ... I expect it's the sandier soil in a marine environment that the plant loves ...

@ Lee - it is one of the more delicious delicacies around for this seasonal food - and as you say parmesan coated asparagus is so good. So many foods were forgotten for centuries and then revived as popular ...

@ Dianne - sometimes we need to ring the changes ... I love eating asparagus for most of the 6 week period, but occasionally feel the need for some cheese and bacon on it ... yes as you mention it's different tastes at different times ...

@ Susan - it is one of the veggies: hate or love ... and quite understand you not liking it. It's history is interesting isn't it ..

@ Sherry - oh good another lover of the veg - and cooked the way I think we all resort to at times ...

@ Ros - I imagine the two of you are good gardeners ... but the crop is a difficult one ... I'm not sure how the asparagus farmers have managed this year ... I haven't been out to a farm so far this year ...

Cheers to you all - another 2 weeks or so more to go for the season - so the plant can rest and recover ... I shall continue to enjoy it! Hilary

Karen Lange said...

Thank you for the info, Hilary! I had no idea about the history of asparagus. My dad is growing some as we speak at his home not far from the coast in NJ. He is tickled that it is thriving so well. I'll have to fill him in on some of these details. Have a lovely week! :)

D Biswas said...

I love asparagus and will be trying this recipe!

Damyanti

Julie Flanders said...

You always have such wonderful ideas for series, and this is no exception. I never knew asparagus had been used medicinally, how interesting. I always learn something new here. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

To me, asparagus is like taking BAD medicine. So I have Augustus to blame for my mother trying to make me eat the stuff? Fun post, Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Karen - oh how interesting to read about your father growing his own right now - I wonder what he'll say about my post and its information. I bet he's tickled pink that his asparagus is thriving ... brilliant ...

@ Damyanti - that's great - enjoy the recipe ...

@ Julie - thanks so much ... and the information I'm finding out is just fascinating ... glad you enjoyed the post ...

@ Roland - sounds like your mother had the right idea .. just hadn't given you the 'delight' of asparagus that many of us enjoy! Gosh - it's not really the right vegetable to push at your child ... I'm not sure when I first tried it ... but we grew it at home ... so probably fairly early in life - well 10ish ...

Thanks for visiting and commenting ... cheers Hilary

Paula Kaye said...

A favorite vegetable at our house...asparagus. I have never attempted to grow it. I am glad my grands are not picky. We have it frequently in the summer.

Romance Reader said...

I can't cook without my herbs and spices and have a whole pantry full of different spices. Great reading here with all the pictures.

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

You're a bit of a sage when it comes herbs and spices. I'm not that keen on asparagus. However, what with its nutritional benefits, I should probably try to incorporate more asparagus into my diet.

Your splendid, in-depth articulation, is something I greatly admire. Thank you for this article, Hilary.

Must go now, we're having a bit of a thunder and lightning storm. Penny is not amused!

Gary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Paula - that's wonderful to see ... that the family love asparagus. I don't blame you for not trying to grow it - fairly specialist I think. You're lucky your grandchildren aren't picky about their food - but it's their upbringing that sets those standards ... and we should all try and essentially eat everything - variety is good for us.

@ Nas - I can imagine you need your herbs and spices ... and I'd love a herb garden - not at the moment though ..

@ Gary - thankfully that means wisdom ... I'm happy with that! Many people don't like asparagus ... but if you don't - there's not much you can do about it.

Thanks so much for your comment ... and yes we were threatened with a number of storms from the Channel - but they seemed to stay to the east ... dogs and birds really don't like storms do they - I hope you don't have too many rough ones ...

Cheers to you all - as Gary's remarked were in a stormy weather mode at the moment ... again it's warm and muggy today ... Hilary

Keith's Ramblings said...

I like my asparagus James Bond Martini style - steamed not boiled! I've always used loads of herbs and spices in my cooking, both professionally and at home.
This is the start of what promises to be an interesting and informative series.

Visit Keith's Ramblings

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Wow! Did I learn a lot. Now, I like asparagus, but I can't say I love it. I'm the type who would love the recipe of the Parmesan cheese topped asparagus you show here on your blog. Thanks for sharing this with your followers.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I'm not sure I've ever had asparagus. With such a short season, I probably just keep missing it :-)

Christine Rains said...

I'm guilty of smothering my asparagus with cheese. It's the only way I can eat most greens! Thank you for the wonderfully fascinating post and have a lovely week.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Keith - that's good steamed not boiled ... and yes herbs are brilliant as additions ... are you a chef then? I just enjoy cooking, but don't do it often now ... I'm pleased you expect to enjoy the series - thank you ..

@ Victoria - well that's excellent. Really all I'd do is cook the asparagus to the 'dente' state - your choice - drain .. and then sprinkle some grated parmesan over and grill so it's crisp - there could be various alternatives to this ... your choice!

@ Annalisa - it is a short season .. but I think one needs to be around family who love asparagus and thus get you to try it - sometime give it a go ... it's still there for a couple of weeks before the season is over ...

@ Christine - I think we all do that at times ... but I do love asparagus plain or near enough plain ..

I'm lucky I enjoy all green veggie as are .. but I'm glad you've enjoyed the post - that's what counts ...

We've had a good few days of hot sun, thunderstorms too ... but now it's about to cool off ... cheers and thanks for visiting ... Hilary

Susan Kane said...

We steamed asparagus, diced it up in big chunks, then chilled. Drizzled butter on the whole and made a made grab to eat it quickly, before others saw it.

A Cuban In London said...

Very interesting post. I can't wait until you get to "m" and "mate". :-)

Greetings from London.

Sara C. Snider said...

I love the idea for this series. Food/plant history is fascinating! I love asparagus, but only the green kind, with its fresh and thin stalks (the white variety I find rather odd). I like to roast asparagus in the oven with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Or put it in a broth-like soup like miso with noodles. Yummy!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Susan - sounds a great 'party' way of eating it ... interesting ...

@ ACIL - thanks so much - for once I hadn't thought about starting with 'A' .. and also hadn't thought about a 'mate' post ... so you've stumped me two ways ... you might be at the bus stop a while waiting for 'mate'!

@ Sara - thank you so much .. I think I'll enjoy writing them, especially if everyone is as interested in reading them as they appear to be ... Lots of people roast asparagus ... and your method sounds delicious ... as too miso with noodles ...

It's great to read everyone's comments - thanks - cheers Hilary

TexWisGirl said...

a whole science involved with herbs. love asparagus. discovered it only as an adult as we didn't grow it in our wis garden.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Theresa - yes we are finding out so much more about the plants and what they do to help us ... the things the ancients were aware of - it'll be an interesting series as I find out more.

I'm glad you love asparagus now ... it's not the easiest to grow - but if one loves the freshly picked sort - then it is so good .. cheers Hilary

Deniz Bevan said...

I must confess, I don't like asparagus... But maybe I've never cooked it properly? It always seems hard and stringy...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deniz - I think it's a marmite thing - you like or not! So it's unlikely you'll change your mind. Perhaps you've had the the white variety, or just had some that's out of season and not fresh ... stringy it might be - but usually isn't ... hard: I'd say it was undercooked (though that's difficult to do, because it needs so little) or not too fresh ...

Cheers Hilary