Cultivated asparagus has the honour of having been one of the few vegetables considered a delicacy on aristocratic tables in times when the passion for red meat dominated.
Louis XIV, the Sun King, ordered the planting of a field of Asparagus officinalis in Versailles in the 17th century to ensure supplies. Although today white asparagus is more highly regarded, the French monarch knew only of green asparagus because the technique of blanching or covering the tender stems with earth to prevent the development of chlorophyll that gave rise to white asparagus was not developed until the 19th century, allowing this plant, which originated in the eastern Mediterranean, to be productive in cold climates.
More delicate and aromatic than its predecessor, white asparagus displaced the latter from the preferences of more refined palates, and the green one remained mainly for the farmers' own consumption, in temperate zones such as the plains of the rivers Genil or Ebro, where the Moors had introduced the plant. Here it had also spread into the wild (main photo), producing a rather more bitter but delicious product.
It was on the Granada plains where, in the 1960s, a group of farmers organised themselves to farm green asparagus for commercial purposes, and today the Huétor-Tájar asparagus is protected by a designation of origin.
Open-air cultivation and chlorophyll make green asparagus less sweet, but the sun allows more nutrients such as vitamins and folic acid to develop.
It is low in calories and is often relegated to be added to salads as part of 'operation bikini' but try frying it in hot oil. Less diet-worthy but with a little coarse salt it's delicious.
Wild asparagus was once an important dietary supplement in rural environments and the harvesting of wild asparagus is a deeply rooted practice in Andalucía. Its local and marginal trade is tolerated, but asparagus does not normally reach stalls and fruit shops. With a bitterness absent in cultivated asparagus, it is delicious in scrambled eggs, purées and casseroles. If you are lucky enough to pick a good sized bunch and are not going to use all of it, wash, dry and freeze it raw to add to stews.
When buying asparagus, look for local produce and freshness. Always check the origin and when you get home, wash it, dry it and wrap it in kitchen paper before putting it in the salad drawer of the fridge.