Asparagus: A sure sign of spring!

Asparagus, a perennial and member of the lily family, can be found growing wild in marshy areas of Europe such as Poland and Russia.  The edible shoots have been enjoyed for centuries as a delicacy as early as ancient Greek and Roman times.  It has also been utilized medicinally as a laxative and a diuretic.  The vegetable is high in vitamins C & E, folate, potassium, and fiber.  White asparagus is cultivated by a process called etiolation, or deprivation of light.  Mounded dirt formed around the growing stalk deprives the plant of chlorophyll, which is a plant’s source of green.  Purple asparagus originated from a region around Albenga, Italy. Purple hybrids typically produce larger, sweeter and more tender spears than green asparagus.

Asparagus is a cold-season vegetable that prefers loose well-drained soil rather than clay-compact soil. Planting this vegetable on north or east slopes is best as the soil warms slower and the early-developing spears are not threatened by late frost.  It is preferable to plant asparagus where it will receive at least seven or eight hours of sunlight during sunny days. Harvesting requires patience as the first year it is best to not harvest any spears if crowns (two year old root clumps) are planted initially.  If the gardener chooses to plant seeds directly then the first harvest should take place two years after planting. The following year it is recommended to harvest the spears of asparagus lightly, for about two weeks.  The next year the harvest lasts about four weeks and six to eight weeks thereafter.  To harvest simply snap off at the ground level when spears are 6 to 10 inches tall and follow the recipe below to enjoy steamed in all of their glory!

Simple Steamed Asparagus

Thoroughly wash the asparagus. The bottom of the stalk is usually too tough, so you’ll want to remove it. A good trick is to hold a piece of asparagus with one hand on the cut end and one closer to the tip. Bend it until it snaps. This automatically separates the tender part from the tough part.

Put the asparagus in a shallow pan with an inch of water. Heat on high until the water boils, then simmer 8-10 minutes, until the asparagus is tender. Don’t overcook… a little on the crunchy side is better than a little on the soft side.

Season with a little butter or olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Variations: Try adding a dash of balsamic vinegar or a little lemon juice for zesty asparagus.

Resources:

http://www.utextension.utk.edu/publications/spfiles/SP291-R.pdf

http://westsidegardener.com/articles/1998/growing_asparagus.html

http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/Asparagus/index.htm

Thank to our amazing Youth Grow Intern, Andryce Anderson, for this blog post!

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1 Comment »

  1. The thought of ‘wild’ asparagus growing in a marshland fascinates me. Great post.

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