La Nina has been no friend of the asparagus growers of Koo Wee Rup in Victoria. This area of West Gippsland is our asparagus bowl, producing more than 90 per cent of the country's crop. Flooding rains have left Koo Wee Rup inundated half a dozen times in the past 18 months. The full extent of the damage is yet to be determined. There's a risk that parts of the asparagus crowns under the ground have rotted, severely limiting their productivity. Farmers won't know until they can compare this year's crop with the good warm, dry seasons of a few years back. Spring so far in Koo Wee Rup has been cool and wet, and the asparagus, which responds to soil temperature, has been slow to take off. The forecast, though, is for a hot summer and growers are quietly confident the day will come when the asparagus grows so fast it must be harvested several times in a 24-hour period.
Ways with asparagus
Drizzle asparagus spears with olive oil then roast in a moderate oven for 15 minutes, until the tips just start to caramelise. Top with chopped roasted hazelnuts, fresh mint leaves, lemon zest and a little more olive oil.
Sydney rock oysters were Australia's first aquaculture product. They have been farmed since the 1870s and are now grown from south-eastern Queensland to southern NSW, as well as in a small pocket around Albany in Western Australia. Sydney rocks are in peak condition from September to March. They are smaller than Pacific oysters and their flavour is influenced by the environment in which they are grown. Most Sydney rocks are sold shucked and packed in polystyrene trays. These should be eaten the day they are bought. Unshucked oysters can be covered with a damp towel or paper and stored in a container in the crisper for a few days. Unshucked oysters are available from Sydney Fish Market retailers. Suburban fishmongers can get unshucked oysters for customers who order them.
Blueberries have been available through winter this year. The out-of-season plenty is the result of grower efforts to identify early varieties. These are then pruned and fertilised to produce not just early fruit but winter fruit. Although the horticulture is impressive, the best-flavoured blueberries are those that ripen in spring. Most of Australia's blueberries are grown on the north coast of NSW, from about Byron Bay to Coffs Harbour. The main season runs from August to the end of January, with a peak of great fruit through spring. When buying blueberries, look for punnets whose berries wear a white bloom. This is a natural protection for the berry and its absence indicates berries that have been overhandled or left on the shelves too long.
WHAT TO BUY
Broad beans Young beans don't need to be double-podded.
Broccoli Warmer weather is increasing the harvest.
Cauliflower Choose a size to suit.
Celery Save trimmings for the stockpot.
Fennel One of spring's bargains.
Mandarins Honey murcotts and Sumo are the best choice.
Mulberries Early-season fruit is available.
Rhubarb Great colour and flavour.
Silverbeet Buy to eat, not keep.
Strawberries Bring to room temperature for sweetest flavour.
Sweetcorn Check for fresh, plump kernels.
Watercress Good salad choice.