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Monday, January 5, 2015

Asperge des Bois

Asperge des Bois, also known as aspergette

I first came across asperge des bois in Paris in April or May of 2014, when I saw it for sale at a marchand of fruits and vegetables being sold in bundles under the name of asperge sauvage, or wild asparagus (this is not the appropriate name, but I didn't know better at the time as I had never seen it before). I bought a bundle of it with really no idea what to do with it, but fortunately enough for me, when I stopped by one of the restaurants that we use for our tours on my way home, the chef was preparing some asperge des bois and cooking it with risotto. As I really had no other ideas, I decided to follow his lead and try my hand at making his recipe at home. While the resulting dish turned out good, the taste of the asperge des bois was different from what I expected. In no way did it taste like asparagus; the taste is subtle and more than anything just added some crunchiness to the risotto which I had prepared at home.

The origins of Bath Asparagus in France are mysterious. It seems the only suggestion to be found is that it was brought by the Romans to be cultivated, but even then, most sources which I cam across appear to suggest that it is an educated guess. It is not related to asparagus, but gets its name due to its resemblance to asparagus.

 This photo is just to give an idea of how much asperge des bois could be found in this spot- it goes deep into the woods here as well

No more than two days later, I was taking an early evening walk in the woods behind my mother in law's house in Seine-et-Marne, about 50 kilometers east of Paris. As I cut through an apple orchard to a small path that passes through the woods, I noticed what looked like asperge des bois growing in abundance in one spot that was maybe 50 meters wide and at least 75-100 meters deep into the woods, if not more. After reflecting on the price in Paris for a small bundle (5 Euros for maybe 15-20 small shoots), I thought about bundling up as much of this valuable plant as possible and giving some to friends. However, as I had only known of the existence of the asperge des bois for 48 hours maximum, I decided it would be best to wait for some to bloom just to make sure that it was indeed Bath Asparagus (named due to its former abundance near the city in England of the same name), as I did not want to poison myself and my friends with some mystery plant that I picked out in the forest.

 Asperge des bois in bloom

A week later, I decided to retrace my steps to check on my patch of asperge des bois, and to my delight and dismay, the shoots had bloomed and the flowers proved that I was correct the week before. Unfortunately, the shoots are at their best when they are smaller and no longer consumed once the flowers have bloomed (though they did make a pretty bouquet of flowers for my wife). Nevertheless, I know where they are for next spring and will be sure to collect as much as possible!

This apple orchard was nearby where I found the asperge des bois. That is the only hint I am giving!

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