Stalking the Asparagus Season
You may know asparagus for its spindly stalk, forest green color and somewhat awkward dinner plate presence, but this supremely healthy vegetable deserves special attention. Although picky when it comes to soil temperature and acidity, and requiring a two-year growth period before it can be harvested for eating, asparagus is worth the fuss and wait. Once you’ve tasted a stalk fresh from the garden, glistening with olive oil and lemon, you’ll understand.
In Hadley, Massachusetts, the asparagus harvest is a springtime ritual, according to an article in gourmet magazine Saveur. From the 1930s through the 1970s, asparagus was the linchpin of Hadley’s economy, and was exported to Paris and Germany where it was served in restaurants, and to England for the yearly spring feast of Queen Elizabeth II.
When selecting asparagus to buy, look for bright green, freshly cut stalks, say the experts at MotherNature.com, a natural products retailer. Store it in a plastic bag or standing upright in an inch of water with the tops covered with plastic. Additional preparation, purchasing and storing advice is available on the site.
The Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board works to “spread the good word about the virtues of asparagus,” by revealing intriguing, little-known tidbits. For example, asparagus is a member of the lily family, and after being harvested, the long spears blossom into ferns dotted with red berries.
Asparagus is also known for its myriad health benefits. Hotel and entertainment site Gayot’s Food Paper explains that ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were known to gather wild asparagus each spring, and use it to treat various ailments such as bee stings, toothaches and infertility. Asparagus even has a regal nickname, the “Food of Kings,” because it was a favorite of French King Louis XIV in the 16th Century. Modern day asparagus fans eat it as a natural diuretic, and to maintain digestive health and fight cancer.
After an asparagus bed has been planted, it takes two years for an edible crop to emerge, says master gardener Martie Young of Adams County, Pennsylvania. Once a bed has been established, however, it can continue producing a crop for up to 25 years. Young offers detailed advice for harvesting asparagus, including soil type, and explains which pests to look out for in your asparagus bed.
When growing your first bed of asparagus, the publication Reader’s Digest advises buying year-old crowns from a respected grower instead of planting seeds, which require much more attentive care. Either way, getting the soil just right will be a challenge. Other things to keep in mind: don’t harvest any asparagus the first year, even though it may look good enough to eat; and don’t cut back the ferns, which protect the plant from spring frost and catch winter snow.
When it comes to preparing asparagus, try simple recipes with quality ingredients, suggests the cooking Web site Simply Recipes. Give the stalks a good rinse, parboil for a couple of minutes and toss with olive oil and a touch of fresh lemon juice. Add Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
Sometimes, more is better. Food magazine Epicurious lists nearly 300 different asparagus recipes.
Great Britain is known for many things, not the least of which is the British Asparagus Festival in the Vale of Evesham. The yearly celebration highlights the traditional growing season, from St. George's Day in late April through Midsummer’s Day in late June. Various asparagus-themed activities take place, beginning with the Great English Asparagus Run.
The asparagus festival is part of the British Asparagus Season. Visit the season’s official site for a plethora of preparation and storage tips, recipes, ways to incorporate asparagus into a healthy diet and fun feature articles, including one for an asparagus date night.
Asparagus produces a potent aroma in urine. The Discovery Channel discusses the issue. Apparently, scientists do not agree on just what chemical produces the smell; however, geneticists discovered in 1980 that not everyone can detect it.