The perfect asparagus

First, let’s get the wee thing out of the way.

You have to learn to love it, that grassy, glucosey, honey-sulphur stench that surprises you every time. Think, like Proust, of the verdant alchemy that “transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume”, and consider it a delightful disruption of your mindless bog-going; a private second chance to remember what it tasted like going in at the other end.

An asparagal meditation trigger, if you will.

The thing is, you have to learn to relish any opportunity to get more, more, more – even if it is through the medium of your own methanethiol-laced piss – because the English asparagus season is so tragically short. The seasonality is partly what makes those stalks so special, scarcity breeding desire; in an instantly gratifying world, there is a rare thrill in channelling our greed into two months of sweet-pee’d gluttony.

You can’t cheat. The overpackaged trays of biro-skinny spears proffered in December, or the taxidermic bottles of fat pale pickled fingers lining continental supermarket shelves, have nothing to do with the splendidly stubby, phallic bundles that appear in farm shops from May to June. And it has to be thick and green; purple, white, thin or tips just can’t compete with the summer lushness of a plump and waxy shaft bursting with chlorophyll.

When it comes to eating, I’ll have none of your mayonnaise or hollandaise, smothering freshness with tooth-coating goop; nor parmesan or parma ham, slipping an unwelcome salty barrier between my mouth and yielding flesh. I was once served asparagus cold, with vinaigrette, and promptly reminded of clammily decomposed digits fresh from the embalming jar. No, the perfect pikes are most definitely gobbled lightly steamed, with a jug of melted butter and a crunchy snowfall of sea salt. And cutlery takes up too much time. Go for fingers, slippery and rapacious; duck your head to catch the nodding tip, and gnash down to the woody base, grasping for the next before someone else robs the pile.

Oh, alright. If you really must be ornery, there is one permissible alternative. On disappointing days when ash has trashed your holiday and your thighs loom tuber-like and tanless in your too-mini denim mini shorts, you may reach for spears doused in mirin and speckled with sesame seeds. The burst of damp, warm salt and sugar results in the ideal vegetal comfort food.

Hey. It’s already mid-May, people. Stop reading, and dig in.