Asparagus has grown in the wild in France since the time of Louis XIV. Originally only three different types were available, they were distinguished mostly by their thickness, ‘la grosse’, ‘la commune’ and ‘la sauvage’.
Cultivation become widespread in the mid-19th century, with populations often identified according to countries and towns where they were grown. Arguably the best known asparagus was cultivated at Argenteuil, situated just 14 kilometres northwest of Paris. For centuries Argenteuil was an important asparagus-growing district: at one time several thousand persons were employed in cultivating the crop.
Asparagus 'Precoce D'Argentuil’ or ‘Early Argenteuil‘ was listed by Vilmorin-Andrieux in 1885 as a selection from 'Giant Dutch Purple'. It is one of three subvarieties of Argenteuil (early, mid, and late) and is highly esteemed for its thick, rose-purple spears with tender tips and an excellent flavour.
It is an excellent choice for the impatient gardener. Earlier and hardier than most asparagus varieties, the spears are usually produced from seed struck plants in the second year and it will shoot earlier in the season than other varieties.
In France, Asparagus D'Argentuil is the traditional variety used to create the popular white asparagus by blanching the plants. White asparagus, nicknamed ‘edible ivory’ and ‘white gold’ typically sells for two to three times as much as the green-skinned variety due to the high cost of production and the short season. However, it is simply created by mounding earth over the spears as they begin to push out of the ground, thus keeping them from sunlight and the photosynthesis that would turn them green.
This noble stalk may cost a king's ransom for much of the year but when cultivated in the garden it is affordable for even us commoners and is uncommonly delicious.