Friday, April 24, 2009

Ah- Aspragus Season!

Just yesterday I spotted the first little purple edged green tip of asparagus poking up through the straw in our asparagus bed! Can you find it in the picture? Made my day. Not that I will get to eat that particular inaugural spear. We’re in year two of our asparagus bed. More about that later.

Asparagus is, hands down, my favorite spring vegetable. I’ve been watching the tightly packed bundles of asparagus in the grocery store. They are still labeled “Mexico” so I leave them where they stand in their dingy water trays. I don’t have any real evidence to back it up, but I’m fairly certain that vegetables grown in Mexico have a higher than average chance of being laced with unapproved pesticides (all pesticides are unapproved in my book unless they’re natural, but I’m talking about federally approved pesticides). Having spent some time in Mexico volunteering with a group of teenagers one summer not so long ago, I’m familiar with the Mexican disregard for quality or regulations when there is a dollar to be had. So I steer clear of their produce if at all possible. Besides asparagus season is almost upon us and soon there will be local asparagus!

As for my own asparagus, not this year. Or next. It takes three long, long years to establish an asparagus bed. But after that – you’re golden because asparagus is just about the easiest and most rewarding vegetable you could grow. It’s perennial so you never have to plant it again once it’s established. We lived in a home years ago with an asparagus bed that was most likely over 20 years old and still producing much more asparagus than we could ever dream of eating. And sadly, I’ve never figured out an acceptable way of storing, freezing, or canning asparagus. It’s just not the same. You have to eat it fresh. And once you have, you’ll never be satisfied with grocery store “fresh” asparagus shipped in from Mexico. So you just have to eat and eat and eat asparagus for the month or so that it produces. Lucky us have friends nearby with an established asparagus bed and they sell it to the lucky few who know about it. I’m checking my e-mail anxiously waiting the announcement that the asparagus is ready. Meanwhile we are hovering over our own asparagus babies celebrating their second appearance in the garden.

If you’d like to try your own hand at asparagus, it’s not too late to put a bed in this year. First, you need to buy “crowns” (preferably organic and heirloom – check out or if you’re local head to the New Freedom store). Directions for planting asparagus generally come with them, but basically you plant them in a sunny spot with good drainage. You dig a deep trench about 18 inches deep and spread the crowns out along the bottom of the trench. Asparagas crowns look like dried up squid, so be sure to spread out all the tentacles. Cover them up with about six inches of dirt. As they begin growing the first year, continue to fill in the trench covering them up to their necks until you have the soil at ground level. Then water them regularly and watch them grow from skinny spears in to feathery ferns. But you can’t eat them. Like I said, it takes three years to establish your asparagus bed. The fourth year you can finally harvest them. So you better get started now! I promise you it will be the best investment you make in your property.

If you don’t have a space for asparagus, poor you. Start searching now for local asparagus. If you’ve never seen it growing it looks just like it does in the store. Single spears grow straight up out of the ground. They look a little Dr. Suess like and they grow so quickly that I’ve always thought you could sit and watch them grow. At our house with the asparagus bed, we used to pick it all first thing in the morning to take to our coworkers and by the time we got home from work there would be an entire new crop to pick. There’s nothing like it. I drove past a field starting to grow up in Seven Valleys this week. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a guard posted. It was very tempting.

There are lots of ways to prepare asparagus. I love it in omelets or simply roasted with sea salt and fresh pepper. My husband and I chanced in to a restaurant in Lititz, PA recently and ordered the asparagus. Even trucked in, as I’m sure it was, it was delicious and prepared in a novel way. I loved it so much, my husband actually went in to the kitchen and asked the chef how it was prepared. Here’s the recipe, loosely, since Nick only had a napkin to write on and the chef was busy:

Steam a bunch of fresh asparagus for about three minutes (keep it crisp), then quick sauté it in butter with fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and chopped walnuts. Serve immediately. I’m telling you it was outstanding. Walnuts and asparagus – who would’ve thought? Try it this month.

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