Of all the garden plants...
"Of all the garden plants, asparagus is the one that requires the most delicate attention in its cultivation" - The Natural History of Pliny. Translated by John Bostock and H. T. Riley
Featuring on many state menus from the 1920s to the Royal Visit of 1954 was asparagus. This less than humble vegetable, associated with status and fine dining, was felt to suit important official occasions. Yet the records of the planning of State functions reflect that very little fresh supplies of asparagus were available.
This lack of locally grown asparagus was clearly on the mind of decisions makers for decades. Perhaps, tinned asparagus placed before visiting royalty had lost its appeal?
On the 2nd August 1930 the West Australian reported that the Premier, Sir James Mitchell had written a letter dated 29th July to the Chamber of Commerce;
“Our soil can grow all the fruit and vegetables necessary to their preparation. I can never understand why not only this State but apparently the whole of Australia is content to import tinned asparagus from California when we know it can be produced locally. 'Hitherto we have never attempted to make production fit in with factory requirements, but by thorough organisation I believe it could be done. The aggregate value of the imports I have enumerated — approximately £460,000 a year —is a big drain on the State, and if local needs could be supplied by local industry, permanent employment would be provided for a considerable number of people”
A member of the public, writing to Sir James Mitchell concerning the Premier’s public statements encouraging organised asparagus growing in WA, commented;
"May I say that I have seen the Group settlements as far as Bussellton Agusta (sic) road. It is a wonderfull country, puts one in mind of the old country. You have some very fine settlers in that district. If they could only grasp the right & efficient methods of cultivation & rotation cropping, so that all the time they have something put on the market, & learn to understand that it is not the thimbleful at high prices, but the big bulk at low prices that pay themselves & the country best. With climate & soil they should be very prosperous." Premier’s Dept., 1930/0910 - Hon Premier. Information re Sugar Beet & Tinned Asparagus". (SROWA, Consignment 1496)
However, for those organising Western Australian banquets, the lack of fresh asparagus in Western Australia was to prove problematic for many years to come. Correspondence from a file planning a visit by Princess Elizabeth in 1952 shows that sourcing two cases of locally produced asparagus was impossible – and this was just the tip of the iced asparagus!
CHOGM’s grand finale dinner as well as SRO’s Eating the Archives banquet menu will reflect the use of local and seasonal produce to showcase contemporary West Australian cuisine.