Last month I had my usual trip to the Friday market at Brantôme, a small picturesque town in the Perigord , a chance to pick up on the local gossip and see what’s in season.
The gossip first; Olivier from Café Co’Thé on ‘Rue Victor Hugo’ was on the French version of Mastermind and he did very well but didn’t get through to the third round. Needless to say his questions were on coffee! There have been a few major changes in that the pharmacist has moved over the bridge and their old shop has been taken over by the cafe owners next to the newsagent on Puy Joli and as they have createneated a large terrace( and who gave permission for that!) the stall selling greengrocerie has had to move opposite the new cafe as the pitch has been taken over by the terrace. Moreover, the fishmonger’s van has had to relocate up the road on the main bridge! Then a few progress reports of new illnesses and deaths in the past month, what events are coming up such as ‘ the Charente Weavers festival’ in Varaignes, the home of the slipper ( Pantoufle) and what concerts or Art exhibitions are coming up at the Abbey or nearby and not forgetting the progress of the garden and the weather almost all in the same breath! This is what markets are about and happen the World over – it could even be Saturday morning in West Ealing or chatting on Pitshanger Lane.
Before meeting up for coffee a view around the many stalls containing foodstuffs, mostly locally resourced, homemade wooden items, soaps and jewellry aswell as random Morrocan , Peruvian stalls that find their way to Brantôme. The seasonal item that is most noticeable are local strawberries including ‘Fraises de Bois’, strawberries diligently gathered in the wild. Also, as always is the Asparagus which always appears at this time and has a very short season. Their are the familiar green asparagus but more popular in this region is the white or purple Charentais asparagus. Fresh asparagus is usually only available in French markets in May and June and stalls sell out very quickly. White asparagus is derived from the same varieties as green asparagus, however its growing method separates it from other varieties; while being cultivated, it has never seen the light of day: soil is mounded over the asparagus plants to prevent the sun’s rays from producing chlorophyll as they grow. Hence,it matures without colour, making it the albino version of asparagus. When the slightest sight of a tip protrudes from the earth, the plant is picked.
Ideal White asparagus spears are pearly white, thick and rounded, about 6 to 8 inches in length with Christmas tree shaped crowns. Their flavor is mild, slightly herbaceous, earthy and nutty with notes of artichoke and fresh White corn. I have to say I prefer the green variety.
As it hasn’t received the nutritional elements of light, white asparagus is more brittle than green asparagus and must be used soon after harvest or the spears quickly turn fibrous and bitter, rendering them inedible. White salad asparagus are tender and sweet, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Sauté chopped white asparagus with shrimp or scallops, or cook quickly in brown butter and serve as a side.
An easy way to cook green asparagus is first break the stems where it breaks naturally to get rid of the less tender part then lie them in a pan or tray covered with water, bring the water to the boil and then turn the heat off and leave for 5 mins. Serve with butter or Hollandaise sauce on their own or an accompaniment with poached salmon.
The same evening we went to the local restaurant for supper and we were interested to note that our amuse-bouche ( pre-meal taster) was garnished with wild asparagus which was foraged in the local vicinity. I managed to discover the source in the next village and imagined Primitive Man ( a known resident of the Dronne valley) probably fed on this delicacy.
The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans valued asparagus for its medicinal value in addition to enjoying it as a food. The second century physician Galen attributed cleansing and healing properties to asparagus.
Asparagus can neutralize ammonia, protect small blood vessels, act as a diuretic… plus its fiber is a natural laxative.
Modern studies show the ancients were right to place high value on asparagus. By eating only a few calories you benefit from many nutrients.
It’s loaded with nutrients: Asparagus is a very good source of fibre, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
This herbaceous plant—along with avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.
This is why eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.
Asparagus is packed with antioxidants, ranking among the top fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process.
The asparagus tuber is used in Chinese medicine, known as Tian Men Dong and tonifies the Yin especially the lung and kidney Yin which are affected in debilitating illnesses such as cancer.
This is an an important ingredient of the formula Káng Ái Fāng (C82) which when I have noticed when administered with Western medicine: the patients seem to respond better and become less debilitated and recover from the ill effects quicker. Most oncologists are not averse to supporting the use of this medication.
Lung Yin deficiency manifests itself by a dry cough, loss of voice, thirst, dry throat, dry skin, sometimes spitting up thick sputum. When advanced, can become Lung Consumption: chronic cough, low-grade afternoon fever, nightsweat, hemoptysis, thin, rapid pulse.
The kidney Yin deficiency occurs in most debilitating chronic illnesses and in Chinese medicine is considered part of the ageing process. It is manifest by symptoms such as dizziness, tinnitus, weak lower back and legs, warm palms and soles, afternoon low-grade fever, diminished sexual function, scanty and dark urine, red-dry tongue, thin pulse without strength. Kidney yin fails to nourish Liver yin, which can lead to Kidney+Liver yin Deficiency.
In Chinese Medicine the relationship between the Liver and the Kidneys is of considerable clinical significance as it is based on the mutual exchange between blood and essence and is particularly important in gynaecology. Essence ( oversimplified) is a term in Chinese medicine to describe vital substances which are inherited and acquired and determines our basic constitutional strength and resistance to exterior pathogens. When the Essence is deficient it affects growth, development, fertility and our ability to fight disease of body and mind.
I find that TCM for me gives some explanation to the mysteries of medicine, chronic illnesses and ageing and why we eat certain foods and understanding more about asparagus is a good example of that!