Asperge Belle Argenteuil

Asparagus Belle d Argenteuil this variety was originally from the outskirts of Paris I am growing this variety from seed this year it takes a year longer before you can harvest the spears than if you grew asparagus from crowns I purchased crowns of Seeds Of Italy this year and they have just started to grow some tiny spears 

Belle di Argenteuil asparagus is white with tips colored from pink to purple; it is very aromatic, slightly bitter. Its stem is firm and tender, and its flavor is very delicate. White asparagus had to wait until 1755 before overtaking green asparagus, which grows in the open air. Developed in 1830 by Louis Lhérault, the improved late-growing Argenteuil asparagus variety traveled the world over in the 19th century. This new variety is known for its precociousness, its large size, its productivity, its tenderness (after peeling), and its largely white colour due to the fact it grows entirely underground, in the dark, which prevents it from flowering. Growing sometimes to 25cm in length and 3 to 6cm in diameter, it was highly appreciated by Parisian gourmands, who preferred it meaty. This vegetable has been very successful and a sort of craze: 400,000 were harvested in 1867, more than a million in 1900. They were awarded medals and rewarded in universal shows, most notably in the Paris World Fair in 1878. The “Belle d’Argenteuil” as it is called, even appeared on the menu of the first-class passengers on the Titanic on 14 April 1912 (in a cold asparagus salad vinaigrette) shortly before it sank. The purple asparagus such as the “Belle de Argenteuil” is planted in a very special way: different from green asparagus in that as it grows, it is covered up to eliminate being exposed to light so it can develop and remain tender instead of flowering. It is picked with a trowel (also used for endives) while still underground, whereas green asparagus is cut with scissors. Asparagus is a plant that grows in the night and must be harvested very early in the morning to keep it fresh. Its season lasts 3 months more or less, usually from 15 March to 15 June

 
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Asparagus was a dish highly appreciated by Louis XIV–who ate them in strips with a soft-boiled egg–and were very frequently on the table at Versailles, especially in winter, obliging his head gardener La Quintaine to grow them in a hothouse with a “hotbed” made from manure. Historically, Argenteuil had been a land of vineyards since ancient times, vines that were highly developed in the 12th century thanks to the Notre Dame abbey monks. If the vines enriched the town – they took up more than 3,000 hectares in the 18th century – the development of the railway transported the competitive, often better quality, wines. Then arrived the diseases, notably phylloxera, and the troop mobilisations of the First World War diminished this culture. Some Argenteuil inhabitants, whose vineyards were decimated, saw their fortunes turn around by planting asparagus instead. Simple recipes were developed to highlight the delicacy, notably poached eggs Argenteuil, or Argenteuil soup made with the shoots while the tips were used in another preparation. For the entire 19th and 20th centuries, asparagus enjoyed a prominent place on the daily menus of the middle classes, and porcelain and ceramic producers of the day made services dedicated to this vegetable, at the same time France was the number one asparagus producer in Europe.
After 1900, with the appearance of diseases and especially the spread of industrial activity, the Argenteuil asparagus production diminished. Today the Argenteuil asparagus variety has been “polluted” by cross breeding with other varieties, and often the fat, purple asparagus called “Argenteuil” is no longer grown but is a hybrid of the Argenteuil variety. Growing asparagus is very demanding: five years are needed from planting the seeds to the first harvest, and during the 10 years they produce, 3.5 tons are harvested per hectare. A vegetable typical of Ile-de-France, the sandy soil in the loop of the Seine (Argenteuil, Corbeil) would be particularly beneficial to it. There are not many market farmers who grow the Argenteuil variety. One of them, Laurent Berrurier, tells us he grows on average 1 ton each year


 

Other Names: Purple Dutch Asparagus, White Asparagus of Argenteuil
Argenteuil is possibly the best Asparagus you will ever eat! This French traditional heirloom, originally from the outskirts of Paris,
is a gourmet variety that is very highly esteemed in Europe for its delicious, tender stems with purple/rose-colored buds.
The very first records of this purple heirloom asparagus date back to the 1700's.

Argenteuil produces extremely large but tender, thick spears much earlier in spring than most other varieties.

It is an excellent choice for the impatient gardener. Earlier and hardier than just about all other asparagus cultivars.
The very tender spears are among the best sweet tasting fresh asparagus straight from the garden,
but it is also the ultimate variety used for blanching to produce white asparagus. Blanching is the process of depriving the plant of sunlight, forcing the plant to grow without producing chlorophyll, giving you beautiful pure white asparagus spears. 
Unlike most other asparagus varieties which do not offer a decent harvest until the third year when grown from seed,
Argenteuil gives great yields even in the second year. Very heavy yields once established.
This hardy variety adapts very well to a wide variety of  soils and is quite heat tolerant.

 All natural fresh untreated seed. Easy to grow. Rust resistant. 

Images of the various asparagus plants that I have grown from seed in the last two years in my unheated  conservatory in Silksworth I have some excellent seedlings that I started off in June 2018 they have come through the winter in the unheated  conservatory very well and are now ready to be repotted when I get the time 

Asparagus has been cultivated in France since the time of Louis XIV.
Originally only three varieties were available, and distinguished mostly by their size, ‘la grosse’, ‘la commune’ and ‘la sauvage’.
The best known and most delicious asparagus was cultivated at Argenteuil, France, just 14 kilometers northwest of Paris.
For hundreds of years Argenteuil was one of the most important asparagus growing districts.

Albenga violet asparagus: sweet, buttery, and unique

Why Albenga violet asparagus – a very ancient local variety  has such exclusive famous attributes and nonetheless is cultivated just by a fistful of farmers (biodiversity defenders) and risks to get endangered?
To get an answer to my questions last week I went to visit Marialuisa, a strong resolute woman who is managing in Albenga the farm set up by his husband Lorenzo Montano, promoter of the today’s Slow Food Presidia of the Albenga Violet Asparagus and prematurely passed away ten years ago.
Needless to say, I lost my way a couple of times. But who knew that Albenga cultivated fields just skim the sea! Luckily there was Marialuisa: driving me with the mobile, before, and waving like a crazy in the middle of the road, then, she managed to get me to destination.
When I crossed the gate of Montano farm I didn’t notice at all the asparagus that surrounded me. I saw only a giant field of dark grey sand that looked unkempt. After a while, however, the asparagus started appearing under my eyes. They were scattered here and there, in groups of two or three. Long, tight, tall, low, big, tepid, all proudly standing up with their heads slightly turned towards a warm mid-afternoon sun. It was the first time in my life I saw an asparagus field.

With a clear surprise in my eyes (such a goof of a hopeless city dweller!) I started chatting with Marialuisa and all my questions eventually received an answer. .
Why the violet asparagus of Albenga is unique?
The violet asparagus of Albenga is unique for a simple matter of heritage. Genetic heritage, actually. This variety, in fact, has more chromosomes than others, 40 against 20, for precision. This prevent hybridization with other spices. Extremely pure, then, but also very little adaptable. It grows well only in certain areas of the Albenga plain.
This variety has excellent characteristic because it is the result of a careful and precise selection made by the farmers of Albenga since 17th century. They eliminated the less noble characteristics, like the bitter taste and the little diameter of the turions (the heads), while they exalted the intense violet colouring, the delicate taste and the big dimension of the turions.
Americans, Australians and Kiwi tried to duplicate it, but nothing to do, this excellent asparagus grows well only at home.
Why nowadays the Albenga violet asparagus is a very rare crop?
“Because cultivating it is a long and hard job” explains Marialuisa. “A plant takes at least three years before producing marketable asparagus.”
“Then the asparagus must be hand-picked, one by one, very delicately and only when they have reached the right size” added Marialuisa, pulling out of her pocket a small shovel and showing me how to do it.

The harvesting is also relatively short: it starts mid March and ends at the end of June. Traditionally from the 19th of March, the day of Saint Joseph, to the 24th of June, the day of Saint John. This is why this vegetable is also called the “Saint vegetable”.
Finally, Marialuisa told me, “it’s impossible to alternate the asparagus to other cultivations, because the roots must rest in peace under the soil year by year”. It is therefore a crop that leaves far little room for economies of scale.
What are the characteristics of the Albenga violet asparagus?
This asparagus first of all is characterized by the dark purple colour of the turions that gradually blurs in white. They are bigger than the others and have a lower content of fibers. They are less aggressive to the smell. The consistency is creamy, soft, buttery because it is not very fibrous. And finally, the taste is sweet and delicate.

How to use it in the kitchen.
At the end of our walk we get to the point. What is the best way to enjoy this precious vegetable? “Steamed and just with some drops of extra virgin olive oil or with fried eggs” Marialuisa replied and then she laughed shyly. “I know it seems too simple, but this is the way I love them the most“. I couldn’t agree more!
As the interview was for a food blog at the end, I asked her for some more details.
First of all, it is recommended to cook them a little so to preserve texture, colour, and scent.
Boiled or steamed. If you boil them you should use a pot with high edges and dip the asparagus only by half, leaving the tips out of the water: they will cook with the steam

You can also roast them in the oven after a quick boiling, sprinkling them with extra virgin olive oil and, if desired, a handful of Parmesan cheese.
But since they are so tender you can eat them raw too: just cut them thinly (just the purple part) sprinkle with a pinch of salt and leave them a few moments to rest. Then rinse and season with extra virgin olive oil and some drops of lemon juice.
Marialuisa also makes pancakes, cutting the higher part in wheels and digging them a simple water and flour batter.
Given the delicacy of this vegetable, the best combinations are eggs, steamed fish or very light sauces.
Finally, before greeting us, Marialuisa gave me a last tip: never throw the white ends! Simply wipe them out of the outer skin, boil them and then blend with a pinch of oil and salt. They become a wonderful cream to spread on bruschetta, a pasta sauce or a base for risotto.
I came home with three giant bunches of freshly picked asparagus. I had a lot of ideas on what to “experiment”, but then I went for two great “classics”. Baked asparagus and asparagus with eggs and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. What canI do, my beloved granny was of Albenga and she cooked them this way.
Albenga is very proud of its asparagus. Each year in May, with the aim of enhancing this excellence of its territory, the Municipality organizes various events. These include the exhibition, now at the eighth edition, called “MAY, THE MONTH OF THE ALBENGA VIOLET ASPARAGUS“.
Many chefs, not only local, adhere to the initiative by presenting in their restaurants a dish, or even a whole menu, based on the Albenga violet asparagus

 

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This image shows the ferns of the asparagus turning brown and are ready to be cut down to the base of the crown the goodness from the ferns has been absorbed back into the crown

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This slide shows the vegetables that I have left on the soil to rot into compost to manure the plot

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This slide shows the asparagus ferns as they are dying off ready to be removed to the compost bin

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In the background of the asparagus, fens are a variety of kale called Emerald Ice a very hardy variety

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It was a very cold winters morning when I took these images

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The asparagus bed is coming up to be four years old and can now be harvested fully

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The greenhouse where I grow the tomatoes and peppers is in the background

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Asparagus bed one Is the oldest asparagus bed and planted in 2018 the first spears were cut last year and I have been cutting the spears from the bed for about three weeks and they are definitely better spears than last year, an asparagus bed can crop up to twenty-five years before been needed to be replaced 

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