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Food for Thought
Much Ado About Asparagus
I am a pom-pom waving fan of instant gratification. My "want it now" mentality is challenged daily by bread that needs hours to rise, Internet orders that take longer than two days to ship, and seeds that take ten days to break the surface. This is why I struggled with the concept of planting asparagus. Luckily, my desire for the fresh green spears prevailed.
To properly plant asparagus, you begin preparing the planting beds a year before you put the crowns into the ground. These beds are dug deeply, mixed with copious amounts of organic material, fluffed, admired, and then ignored until the following spring.
Once the crowns are planted you can look, but you can't touch. At this point the plants are allowed to grow, but you can't cut the asparagus spears! You can't cut them the next year, either, except for a few spears . . . just enough to assure yourself they're worth waiting for. Finally, during year three, you are allowed to harvest a moderate amount of asparagus before you let the rest turn into tall fronds.
At last it's year four. Now you can cut all you want for seven to eight weeks! Here's how it works around my place.
Week one: Little green tips are coming up through the compost mulch. I take pictures of them and sprinkle more mulch on them if frost is predicted. We keep dashing down to see if any of the asparagus is big enough to cut. Our first meal of the year is usually three or four spears of sautéed asparagus each. So sweet and good!
Week two: It's really coming up fast now. My husband and I both love to harvest it, so to be fair we take turns. I sauté or steam it, and roll it in a little melted butter with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Yum!
Week three: Lots of asparagus! We give some to family members and (if we're feeling generous) friends. It is sautéed, steamed, and munched raw. I add any leftovers to salads. Did you know asparagus can grow ten inches a day?
Week four: Whoa. It just keeps coming. Now we fight over whose turn it is to trudge down to the garden to cut the darn stuff. Besides sautéing, steaming, and munching it raw, I'm adding it to anything I can get away with, like casseroles, quiche, salads, and pizza. I dread opening the refrigerator because I know if I see any asparagus I will have to deal with it.
Week five: I remind myself of the health benefits of asparagus. Sometimes I just use the tips and chop up the stems for the chickens. By now I'm digging through recipes to find something new to use it in. We feed it to company, smiling and smacking our lips to show them what a treat it is. We send some home with them.
Week six: Friends of friends, passing vehicles, people in my various clubs . . . everyone gets asparagus. This is the gourmet equivalent to home-grown zucchini. We complain about "asparagus pee." And yes, this is a real phenomenon. Supposedly only a small percent of the population can detect the odor. Lucky me.
Week seven: I think my skin is turning green. Sometimes we "forget" to check the asparagus, and some of it opens up and tries to bloom. Whoops. Chicken food!
Week eight: We are relieved that it's time to let it bloom into beautiful fronds which will feed the crowns for next year. Asparagus season is over. Don't get me wrong; I love asparagus. I adore asparagus. I also love peanut butter cups, but if I ate them every day for eight weeks I'd probably get tired of them, too.
With a large garden, the temptation is to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, and then spend hours preserving them. My goal is to emphasize eating fresh food in season, and to share or preserve only that which we can't eat. Since I'm not fond of canned or frozen asparagus, I gorge on it when it's fresh and yearn for it the rest of the year.
Asparagus is nutrient dense
The nutritional value of asparagus is impressive. It is low in calories, has no fat or sodium, and contains a generous quantity of vitamins and minerals. For details, see the chart, Nutrients in Asparagus, published by "The World's Healthiest Foods."
Vitamins aren't the only benefit to eating asparagus. It is also a natural diuretic and includes anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients. Recently it has been found to contain inulin, often called a "prebiotic," which passes directly into the large intestine and feeds bacteria that help absorb nutrients.
So . . . it's good for our digestion, nutrient-dense, and delicious. What's not to love?
Did I mention that asparagus is very versatile? As an appetizer, nothing beats cheesy Asparagus Roll-Ups or bacon-wrapped asparagus. Asparagus Potato Soup made with sour cream hits the spot after a hard day. Cooked and chilled asparagus tips are wonderful in a green salad. For a truly delicious main dish, try my Asparagus-Bacon Pizza. For dessert, there's raw asparagus coated in chocolate. (I'm just kidding. I tried it and had to take three bites to be sure, because it looked pretty and I really wanted to like it, but I definitely do not recommend it!)
Serve as fresh as possible
When you grow (or purchase) fresh asparagus, remember that it needs to be served promptly, preferably within 48 hours. Keep the stems moist, if possible. I stand them up in a glass of water, inside a plastic bag. The woody ends help to keep moisture from escaping too quickly, but you will want to cut them off before cooking.
Contrary to popular belief, fat spears are more tender than the skinny ones. The fat spears are young and sweet. As the plant plays out and starts producing only small spears, it's time to stop harvesting and allow them to turn into big fronds. The tiny spears are more appetizing in appearance, but for most uses, I like the larger size.
Right now we are only going into week two of harvest, so my enthusiasm for these delectable veggies is high. But if you come this way in the next month or so, you might want to bring a small cooler with you!
Contact Lorinda at email@example.com
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.