For the past seventy years the south of France has cultivated asparagus and it now comes first in European production. Ten varieties of asparagus are produced in the south. Production has diminished in the last few years due to the high cost of employment in France. Competition from China, and even Peru is more and more in evidence. However, where ""Asperge d’Oc, Sauvageonne"" is found on the label, consumers can rest assured that the product has been freshly picked the day before and hasn’t travelled the long distances which, apart from anything else, are so expensive in energy.

It takes two years of preparation before an asparagus bed is ready. The temperature of the soil must be at least 12° for the plant to grow. Grafts (griffes) are placed in trenches 20cm deep (around 3 cuttings to a metre) which double, even triple, in size with time. Each graft can go on producing for twenty years, but generally speaking a bed is only cultivated for 9 years.

Two kinds of asparagus are produced in the Gard. The chunky white or purple asparagus, grown on the sandy soils and which is so highly prized by Parisian and Swiss restaurants stays white only while underground, and is gathered as soon as a tiny bump or crack, hardly discernable to the naked eye, appears in the sand beneath its plastic protection. As soon as it sees the light it begins to turn purple. The green asparagus grows on a heavier clay soil. It is gathered while the heads are firm and great care is taken not to damage them. Green asparagus continues to grow after the crop has been gathered. Owing to the European directive, asparagus spears can only be sold if completely straight.

Asparagus, from the same family as onion and garlic, is rich in vitamins A, B and PP, phosphates and magnesium. It is a diuretic, a depurative and even a mild laxative.

Gathering asparagus is a long and backbreaking task. It needs skill and a good eye. Although more expensive than its foreign counterparts, asparagus from the Gard excels in taste and freshness. Peel the white asparagus as you would potatoes, starting 2cm below the head.

You can cook them upright in boiling water with the points above water level (ten minutes for green, 20 minutes for white) until tender. To many the best way to eat them is simply cold, dipping them into a good vinaigrette as an artist dips his brush into his paint - and just enjoy!