I MAKE no apology for highlighting the joys of freshly harvested British asparagus once more. How can one ignore such a vegetable? Impossible. Particularly as its season is only six weeks long. Asparagus is one of those vegetables that grows particularly well in Oxfordshire, which may account for the many pick-your-owns and local farm shops which will be selling it any day now. Although imported asparagus is available virtually all the year round now, nothing beats the taste of freshly harvested local asparagus eaten the day it is picked. True asparagus aficionados may like to know that there is now a British Asparagus Festival. It takes place in at the Fleece Inn, found in the tiny village of Bretforton, near Evesham, from Saturday, May 24, to Monday, May 26 (Bank Holiday Monday), when there will be cookery demonstrations by Rachel Green, a craft fair, a farmers' market and a tutored asparagus tasting. For more details of the event, go to: www.british-asparagus.co.uk/asparagus_festival.php Asparagus is high in vitamins B6 and C, plus fibre, folate and glutathione which is an anti-carcinogen and antioxidant, which makes asparagus an excellent nutritional choice.

Some people worry about the smell of their urine after eating asparagus, though not everyone is affected. This is not something you should be concerned about even though the smell can make itself known within 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion. You only have to eat the smallest asparagus shoot to notice this effect. It's due to the sulphur-containing amino acids which break down when it's ingested.

If possible cook and eat your asparagus on the day of purchase. If you must keep your asparagus spears more than a day, try placing them upright in a bowl or vase of cold water, or wrapping the ends of the spears in a damp paper towel before placing them in the vegetable container in the refrigerator.

Asparagus can be enjoyed steamed, grilled, baked or boiled and served with melted butter, olive oil or hollandaise sauce as a starter. Thinly sliced brown bread and butter is a great accompaniment.

Try tossing warm asparagus into a salad, or serving it as an extra vegetable with the roast. You can add it to a stir fry too. Actually, there are very few dishes that don't taste even better when served with this remarkable vegetable. It goes very well with scrambled eggs and is brilliant when served with pasta.

Whilst asparagus can be steamed, I suggest cooking it in a large frying pan of boiling salted water, which allows you to lay it flat. It only needs about three or four minutes at rapid boil. You can tell when it's done as its colour begins to change to a bright translucent green. Remove from the pan immediately with a slatted spoon and allow to drain on kitchen paper. If you aim to serve it cold with a salad, plunge it into cold water immediately it's cooked.

Asparagus spears can be thick or thin - size is not an indicator of quality.