The Third Leader: Some seasonal tips

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The Independent Online

No one can accuse me, in these trying times, of not doing my level best to keep your spirits up. Yesterday I celebrated May Day at Oxford and began the jamboree of jubilation that is Engelbert Humperdinck's 70th birthday; today I seek to remind you that asparagus is about.

Ah, yes: you will remember Saki's view of the tipped triumph, that anyone who did not like it, oysters or wine had a highly developed instinct for being unhappy. The Greeks were mad about it, the Romans went to their usual excessively efficient lengths to cultivate and gather it. And here and now it is becoming ever more popular.

Splendid. But I would be failing in my duty if I presented asparagus to you unadorned as the restorative antidote to, and escape from, the wearying complexities of life, a snatched moment of simple vernal bliss. I am no expert, but even my elementary researches suggest simmering waters.

White or green? Thick or thin? How much woody end to leave? Snap or cut? Peel or not? Boil, fry, grill or roast? Butter, mayonnaise or runny egg? Fingers, knife and fork, or tongs?

Indeed. The average person, I read, makes 612 decisions a day, of which, I also read, more than 100 are food related. Asparagus could tip you right over; and that's before we get into the aphrodisiac thing, touted by Aristotle, doubted by, inter alios, Charles Lamb. Or the well-known pungent after-effect, caused by, depending on which side you take, derivatives of methionine or asparagine.

Do you know, I think I'll plump instead for some of that other splendidly stalked early perennial, rhubarb. Custard?

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