asparagus recipes & asparagus health facts (plus: applause for seasonal eating)

[17 Apr 2013 | By | 6 Comments]

asparagus @talkoftomatoes

I remember a crabby moment a decade or two ago—a bit of an ‘a-ha’ moment. I was walking through a grocery store, and had this sudden [late to the party] realization that I was staring at the same produce options year-round. I didn’t know who to be crabby at. How was it possible I didn’t know what produce was ‘seasonal’!?

For as long as I could remember, there were lemons and limes, apples and bananas. Ever an option: bulbous heads of iceberg lettuce, hoards of carrots and tattered zucchini. Potatoes were abundant, strawberries present and tomatoes (never mind the flavor) piled aisle high. Prices went up and down, but leeks and avocados remained.

asparagus @talkoftomatoes

I was disappointed in my lack of seasonal-food knowledge and it struck me as odd. My grandmother knew, didn’t she? So did yours. Where and why was this seasonal eating lost? My grocery store was a year-round supply of both off-season and in-season food all mixed in a happy mess. I was at a loss—and I confess—a bit embarrassed and distraught over my lack of seasonal knowledge.

I had read stories of people waiting for the tips of spring’s asparagus and summer’s juicy tomatoes. Only once a year should watermelon run down your chin and peaches be so ripe they are beyond adjectives. Lambs and goats, piglets were born in the spring—and butchered later that summer or fall. But a strawberry midwinter? It was likely picked early, ripened en route and shipped from another part of the earth. I had heard: seasonal eating is healthier, a natural symposium of nutrients, a ‘built-in’ balance of vitamins and variety.

asparagus tips @talkoftomatoesIt was 5 boxes of sticky fresh figs on my doorstep that pushed me off the ‘seasonal’ cliff.

Today I am leaning more deliberately into seasonal eating. Pushing is more like it: forcing my way through crowds of off-season produce, warehouse-ripened food, berries that have traveled to more exotic countries than I ever will. Not too long ago, I pinged a book editor to consider a book called ‘Food Parade’ where I suggested celebrating in marching order: one seasonal bumper crop after another.

I always have to add disclaimers: food habits aren’t retrained overnight (are any habits retrained overnight?). Yesterday I bought 2 small tomatoes grown in Mexico. Though I love all my canned tomatoes from last summer (and I canned a LOT of tomatoes)—I ‘needed’ a few fresh wedges for a Feta and Olive Greek Salad. But I march on:

It is spring, so lets talk asparagus.

I am enthralled with asparagus and its growing habits. While cycling through Holland a few years ago, we happened upon fields of white, purple and green asparagus. My Dutch farming roots were giddy. Today, my Seattle Urban Farm teases me: I cannot pick it for another 2 years. It takes 3 years for asparagus to establish itself in a garden plot or large field. Last year I put root balls in the ground and some feathery stalks shot up. This year I have tall skinny asparagus stretching to the sky, but I am told to resist. Let it die back to the ground and NEXT year: asparagus for the taking each spring forever after. Asparagus love:

asparagus @talkoftomatoes - 01

asparagus @talkoftomatoes - 05

And I couldn’t help but share this litany of asparagus food facts and cooking inspiration from my friend Annette at Sustainable Eats:

  • You can stand your asparagus spears up in cool water and they will stay fresh for quite some time.
  • If you hold a spear at both ends and gently bend, it will snap at the point where the tough stalk meets the tender part.
  • Save your tough ends. Peel off the outer part with a potato peeler and chop what’s left to use for cream of asparagus soup
  • If not pickling, the only safe way to can asparagus is using a pressure canner, not a water bath canner.
  • Asparagus, eggs and tarragon are divine together.
  • Goats like asparagus! (she has gorgeous goats, including new baby goats—I wish I could have goats for lovely milk and cheese, but right now cannot milk daily!).
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  • Karista said (17 April 2013 at 4:46 pm):

    I couldn’t agree more Janelle! I so remember many years ago walking through the same produce aisle at my market thinking almost the same thing. I too am resisting produce that has traveled far, with the exception of some blueberries that little Miss insists upon snacking. The nutrient value in our food diminishes the farther it’s shipped and the longer it’s on the shelves. I’m so jealous, I didn’t plant asparagus. I wish I did! Next garden it’s going in. :) Fabulous post! And thanks so much for the kind mention :)

  • Janelle (author) said (21 April 2013 at 8:41 am):

    It is an adjustment: resisting food I am used to all year. I still have my cheats, but I will say I have eaten a lot of dried fruit this winter! 😉

  • Karen@SiciLean said (18 April 2013 at 6:06 am):

    I love asparagus and you’re right – it’s incredibly healthy. Oddly enough, I now realize that I have yet to post one asparagus recipe on my blog…your post has inspired me to join the asparagus bandwagon. Thanks!

  • Janelle (author) said (22 April 2013 at 4:16 pm):

    Join! Let me know what you make!!

  • Donna Vander Griend said (18 April 2013 at 8:18 am):

    Love the phraseology and climax of your watermelon and peaches lines!
    This is timely because I just happen to have a large bunch of getting-older asparagus in the fridge.
    Can I just simply blanch it, refrigerate it, and use a bit at a time for recipes?

  • Krista said (22 April 2013 at 9:16 pm):

    I’m so happy reading this post today, Janelle. :-) I planted heaps of asparagus – the first “wait a looooong time before you see results” vegetable I’ve done. :-) This year I got a few spears and I’m so excited for the day when I will reap heaps of them. :-)