Sprue Asparagus, Baby Purple Artichokes & Pineberries...

It will doubtless be of no surprise to you when I say that English Asparagus is perhaps now at the pinnacle of its evolution and development. In other words, it has reached its best and has no higher level to which it can climb. I, myself, couldn't exactly claim to be an avid devotee of the illustrious and celebrated grass, with the exception of one particular type to which I'm especially partial, namely Sprue Asparagus. Spotted recently during my last visit to the market a mere few days ago, these English examples are not that dissimilar in appearance to Thai-style asparagus, but with greener stems and purple tips. Slender and tender, but no less flavoursome than regular asparagus, it works particularly well briefly steamed or sautéed, or added raw to dishes which require relatively little cooking time, such as omelettes – and if you’ve never tasted a Sprue Asparagus omelette, then you’ve never fully experienced what an omelette is capable of.

New season English Broad Beans are now in the market, as are new season English Fresh Peas and English Spring Onions.

English Broccoli, too, has just started, and from the brief glimpse I’ve so far had of it, packed tightly in polystyrene iceboxes, I must admit to being rather impressed.

Organically-grown Baby Purple Artichokes are yet another new season homegrown arrival to which I’d like to give brief mention. Firstly, though, it’s perhaps wise to make the distinction between ‘’organic’’ and ‘’organically-grown’’ fruit and veg. Both are produced in exactly the same way, but purely organic produce can only be sold as such if, once it leaves the grower, it is stored, packed and transported separately from non-organic produce. The upshot is, therefore, that because we are unable to make such an assertion, we cannot offer these as entirely ‘’organic’’ in accordance with the strict definition of the term. Anyway, they’re available in bunches consisting around 4-5, rather attractive, roughly duck-egg-sized heads.

English Red Gem Lettuces have arrived in the market. The deep-red and often purplish tint to their leaves notwithstanding, they differ from the common green variety of gem inasmuch as their heads tend to be larger and their leaves softer, looser (by which I mean less tightly compacted together) and slightly drier (by which I mean more bitter). They’re rather beautiful, and in my opinion are capable of achieving as much a visual impact as many of the “continental” style lettuces you’d care to name. As with their verdant counterparts, they’re available in packs of two.

Last week I spoke of the arrival in the market of Dutch Wild Strawberry variant, the Strasberry. This week they’ve been joined by another domesticated wild strawberry cultivar, the Pineberry. Its name derives from its fragrance and flavour being likened to that of pineapple. More strawberry-like in its shape than the Strasberry, the Pineberry’s appearance does however differ from a conventional strawberry inasmuch as its colours are reversed, so that the skin is almost pure white and its seeds red, whilst its highly aromatic flesh can range in colour from soft white to pale orange.

Many of you will be familiar with the Sharon Fruit, which is a ‘non-astringent’ variety of Persimmon. Kaki Fruit (aka Japanese or Asian Persimmon) on the other hand, is an ‘astringent’ variety of the same fruit which, unlike Sharon Fruit, needs to become very soft before it can be eaten. When not yet ripe the Kaki possesses a hard shell and firm flesh containing very high levels of tannin, causing it to taste dry and bitter. By the time it’s fully matured (or bletted) the shell will have become thin and waxy and almost translucent; the flesh will by this time be a thick pulpy jelly able to be scooped out with a spoon and possessing a flavour which can be likened to a cross between mango and apricot.