“ Unusual vegetable with a unique flavour a cross between asparagus and young peas. „
I had never heard of this before, but spotted it when I was browsing the seed section at my local garden centre. I love asparagus, but I am quite impatient, and so couldn't be bothered to grow my own and then wait the three years until I could harvest them. They looked pretty easy to grow, and I was willing to try. Like most of my seeds I prefer to plant them in 9cm pots inside/in a propagator to give them a boost in life. Pop two seeds in the soil about 13mm down, and pull out the weakest one. When they get about 10cm pop the in a cold frame to harden them off and then plant in the ground, around a cane wigwam. They will need tying up to the canes. Pods should start to develop from june onwars, but make sure you harvest them when hey are 2.5cm long or less, otherwise they will be really stringy. Steam them, and then enjoy the lovely taste of asparagus in a pea.
I had never heard of the Asparagus Pea before and only came across it purely by chance whilst browsing a seed catalogue for suitable Kohl Rabi and Sweet Corn to grow this year.
The Asparagus Pea, or Tetronoglobus Purpurea to give its Sunday name, is not something you are likely to find in the supermarket or local greengrocers. I adore Asparagus and as the UK season lasts only 8 weeks, rather than have to buy the imported stuff from Peru, I thought these may well be worth trying to satisfy my taste for Asparagus.
They are not really a pea at all, but are in fact a vetch (that's a climbing plant with a bean like fruit for those not in the know), these are bushy plants bearing deep red flowers which appear in summer, followed by pale green curiously 4 sided shaped winged pods.
Whilst they are not really that common in Britain, they can be found growing wild in southern European countries and arrived over here many years ago by accident with some imported grain. They are now cultivated in Western Europe almost exclusively as a connoisseur's vegetable.
I decided to give these a try as they looked so pretty in the picture and I was also curious to find out if they did taste anything like Asparagus, as the name suggests.
After purchasing a packet of these seeds from Marshalls Kitchen Garden catalogue for £2.45, I set some off in small pots of compost then placed them on a sunny window sill to wait for germination to take place. After 14 days, seedlings started to appear and continued to grow over the next few weeks. Once they were about 6 inches high, I moved them outside
in to the cold frame until the end of May then finally planting half of them directly in the ground and the remaining plants in a large pot for the patio. Taking care to ensure they were well watered in dry weather, these plants became stronger as each day passed.
By the second week of July they were around 12 inches high and beautiful dark crimson flowers had appeared, a week or so later the frilly looking pale green pods could be seen.
The secret is to pick them whilst they are still quite small, no more than 1 inch long, as these taste sweet and crunchy, anything much bigger and they become bitter, tough and stringy.
After keeping a watchful eye on their progress, my first harvest produced 15, of course I couldn't resist the temptation to sample one straight away and was rather surprised to find these curiously shaped pods were lovely and crunchy in texture and did in fact taste a little like asparagus.
As their flavour is so delicate it's best to cook them as simply as possible avoiding the urge to add any dominant flavours like garlic. I simply sautéed them in a little melted butter and even refrained from adding my usual twist of black pepper as I felt it would spoil this delicate treat. Thumbs up all round and even though we only had a handful each for our first tasting, I was looking forward to my next harvest. I didn't have to wait to long either, as in the next couple of days another lot were ready to be picked, 25 this time which were eaten raw in a salad, again a very subtle asparagus like taste greeted the taste buds.
My third picking (26) were thrown into a stir-fry at the last minute, as I wanted to retain the crunchy texture and sweet flavour and I am pleased to say succeeded in achieving this I have found that using the simplest of cooking methods is the best way to enjoy the pods.
These pods contain small amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fibre and iron and are in my opinion a real gourmet treat.
We are now in August and new flowers and pods are appearing each day, and are expected to do so at least until the end of the month, however if the weather is kind, this could continue until the first frosts appear.
Whilst this is not a plant that produces a prolific crop, it is certainly worth considering if you want to grow something that will earn its space in the garden. You don't need to have a huge garden either as these would be ideal to grow in pots on the patio, in borders or perhaps to fill gaps left by spring flowering bulbs. They may succeed equally as well if grown as a pot plant indoors provided they are placed in a sunny spot and are certainly attractive enough to do so.
They are very easy to grow and require very little attention, just water in dry weather, thus making it easy to "reap what you sow".
As I have said earlier the UK asparagus season is indeed very short and whilst I appreciate this is not anything like the real McCoy, they have actually been a good substitute during the out of season months.
I will certainly be growing some more next year, not only for their lovely attractive flowers but for the wonderful food produced too. There is also the added bonus being that as these are a member of the legume family (that's a pod of a plant of the bean or pea family), then the roots of the plant will add extra nitrogen into the soil, making it ideal for Brassicas next year..... Good news for my Kohl Rabi.
These certainly make an attractive addition to any garden even if you don't eat the pods, but I think it would be a shame to grow something that is edible and not take advantage.
Previously posted with pictures by me on ciao.