This vegetable has many other names- mercury, lincolnshire spinach, poor man's asparagus and so on, and it has been grown as a vegetable in cottage gardens for hundreds of years. However, fashions change, and now this dual-purpose vegetable is a rarity.

It's a perennial which reaches about 2 ft high. You should pick a fertile, sunny spot which is free from perennial weeds and sow the seeds in April in drills which are a quarter of an inch deep and 1 and a half ft apart. You then thin the seedlings to 1 ft- do not transplant. Don't expect too much in the first season- keep the plants regularly hoed, well watered and eachtime you harvest pick just a few leaves from each plant for cooking.

Cut the foliage in autumn and mulch with peat, leafmould or well-rotted compost. Cropping can begin in spring- cut some of the new shoots as they appear from April until June and cook like asparagus. All cutting should then cease and all shoots must be allowed to develop. The triangular succulent leaves are picked a few at a time until the end of August and cooked like spinach.

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