Marks & Spencer was first off the block with British asparagus on sale in selected branches last week – nearly three weeks before the traditional start of the eight-week season on 23 April – while Waitrose put the first spears on sale on Wednesday. Sainsbury’s is likely to stock small quantities from the weekend.
But the much larger mainstream crop – grown in the open in fields rather than in polytunnels or glasshouses – is likely to be delayed by two weeks as a result of adverse weather conditions and the impact of up to three separate snowfalls which sent temperatures plummeting, according to the trade body British Asparagus. It says the perfect growing conditions are a cool, crisp spring which is not too wet and not too dry.
Airmile-laden products from Peru – still the world’s largest exporter of asparagus – have traditionally bolstered supermarket shelves because of the unpredictability of UK weather.
The British asparagus season ends on the summer solstice – 21 June – when the last spears are harvested by hand. M&S now offers white asparagus, purple asparagus and, for the first time, jumbo-size “king” asparagus, which will be on sale from mid-April.