Why Kings and Queens Love Asparagus

September 10, 2013

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What food was the passion of Roman emperors, Samuel Pepys, and the mistress of France’s King Louis XV?

The answer is a food which is available only for a very short time each year – asparagus. The thick young spears are a gourmet delicacy.

Green spears are the most common, but if you visit farmers’ markets you can find white and purple varieties that are even sweeter in taste.

Whichever color you choose, you’ll find asparagus a nutritional blockbuster: very high in folates, iron, amino acids, fiber, potassium, and vitamins K, A, and C. It is naturally low in calories and sodium.

Asparagus has always been regarded as something special. Its appearance has made people around the world regard it as an aphrodisiac. In 19th century France it was not unknown for bridegrooms to eat three courses of the vegetable on their wedding night!

Roman Emperors loved asparagus so much that they actually had special fleets which they sent to collect the asparagus harvest so as to bring to the table as quickly as possible.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary on April 20, 1667, that he “brought home with me from Fenchurch Street a hundred of sparrowgrass [asparagus] cost 18d and ate it with salmon.” England’s King James II enjoyed asparagus at his coronation feast in 1685.

In France, the Sun King Louis XIV was so keen on asparagus that he ordered 6,000 asparagus plants to be installed in his newly created Potager du Roi within the gardens of his new palace at Versailles.

It was his son’s mistress, Antoniette Poisson, Madame de Pompadour, who was involved in the creation of one of the most famous asparagus recipes – Asparagus a la Pompadour.

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The recipe is found in the books of royal chef Alexandre Grimod de la Reyniere. He noted that the asparagus should be cleaned and cooked in salted water before being sliced diagonally into pieces the size of your little finger.

The asparagus should then be kept warm in a cloth while the sauce was prepared. This sauce combined flour, butter, nutmeg, egg yolks, and lemon juice.

Once made, it was added to the asparagus and served in a casserole. This recipe is still used among cooks and variations of it appear regularly in recipe books.


In Germany there is even a museum devoted to asparagus at Freistaat Bayern. Visitors to the annual asparagus festival take part in asparagus peeling contests and try to eat as much asparagus as possible.

Asparagus is mainly grown in Europe and the Americas, although if NASA scientists are right, it might one day be grown on Mars.

Soil samples taken during a 2010 exploration of the planet revealed that the red soil is alkaline – perfect for growing asparagus.


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