Few things bridge the millennia like sensory experience, and arguably nothing provides a fuller feast for the senses than food. The cacophony of the kitchen; the bouquet of fresh ingredients, of open flame and of hard work; the spectacle as food wends from field to fork; the symphonic denouement that is that first superlative bite—such an evocative experience spans the ages. We may never know exactly the smell of Rome’s streets in spring, but we can trust that for just a moment when we bite into the flesh of expertly prepared asparagus each of us experiences precisely the joy of the emperor himself at dinner.
Emperor Cato the Elder wrote in his De Agricultura extensive cultivation instructions that take the reader from breaking ground through the complete, almost decade-long lifecycle of asparagus. Octavius Augustus is remembered as being fond of the saying “Cooked as quick as asparagus,” used to describe a quickly completed action. Many an emperor is recorded as having an affinity for asparagus, but in Western culture, asparagus fell out of use with the decline of the Roman Empire.
To the east, the vegetable’s popularity maintained in Arabic cultures, where it was considered to be an aphrodisiac, especially when served covered in egg yolk. This Mediterranean relative of the lily got its name from the Greek asparagos, itself from the Persian asparag, which means shoot or sprout. The rich history of asparagus outside of Western culture stretches back to Egyptian friezes from 3,000 BCE.
It was during the Renaissance that asparagus returned to the Western dinner plate, an unexpected benefit of the renewed interest in Roman texts. One such scholar was Dutch Renaissance humanist and philosopher Erasmus, although by his time, the wild asparagus gardens of Northern Italy were renowned muses. While writing of Octavius Augustus’ aforementioned favorite adage, Erasmus noted that “Asparagus is a prickly type of grass, a useful medicine and pleasant food as well; before it grows hard, the top is cooked lightly, but only enough to take away the rawness.”
This traditional method of cooking has made it down through the ages to Beaujolais, where we invite you to partake in a dish thousands of years old. Our Asparagus Salad features exquisitely cultivated asparagus during their peak season with shallots, radishes, lemon, olive oil, parsley, and exotic black garlic. A quintessentially vernal dish, there’s no better choice for celebrating the equinox.