Size Matters

Asparagus?

One thing that caused me to want to eat asparagus even more was Barbara Kingsolver’s description of creating an asparagus bed on her farm when she moved to North Carolina. Her depiction of soil prep and care and the fruits of the effort was worthy. When I was about 7 years old, I remember my parents enthusiastically welcoming my discovery of wild asparagus growing at the creek bed behind our home.

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable which can live longer than 12 years. It’s a wonderful spring crop because it does return on an annual basis and because it freezes well if you have excess. During the harvest season, asparagus spears develop each day from underground crowns.

If you choose to grow it, asparagus can be raised either from seed or from 1-2 to year-old crowns. For best results, purchase crowns from a respected farm or nursery. My local urban farmer recommends the following 6 steps:

1. Dig a trench one foot deep in a place with good drainage and full sun.
2. Add a good organic fertilizer to the bottom of the hole and work it in.
3. Per the spacing instructions lay the asparagus roots in the bottom of the trench.
4. As asparagus likes organic rich soil add organic material into the trench along with the dirt that was dug.
5. Let the asparagus grow for a year.
6. In year after the asparagus has grown out finish filling the trench with a good organic mix.

The way asparagus grows is interesting. In the Southwest, asparagus shoots poke their heads through the mulch sometime around the Ides of March. Those are the ones you want to eat! Size matters! Don’t let them get too tall or they’ll get woody and tough. The bed will produce edible shoots for about a month and then tall wispy stalks shoot up looking just like asparagus fern. The fern will grow until it gets cold in the fall and plays an important role in the long-term success of the plants.

The oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third century AD De re coquinaria, has a recipe for asparagus.  It’s low in calories and a good source of many vitamins like B6, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium.. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, as the asparagus plant is rich in this compound.

Asparagus shoots can be prepared in many ways, often as an appetizer or vegetable side dish. Last night, as part of our annual ski trip, our friendly chef grilled it quickly after brushing it with olive oil and salt and pepper. Make extra when it’s in season and add it to soups and eggs and pasta. Enjoy it raw in a salad and in order to store it for a long time, try pickling it.

Grilled Asparagus

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh asparagus spears, ends trimmed
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Preheat grill for high heat.
  • Lightly coat the asparagus spears with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Grill over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or to desired tenderness.
  • Keep close watch as they will overcook or burn very quickly.

P.S. The photo above is the blossom on one of the agave plants in our yard. My boys are insistent that I add that asparagus is known to change the odor of urine. Well, that’s not exactly the way they said it.

Leave a comment

90 Comments

  1. What an interesting read! I have never had asparagus. Dont even think we get it here but I’d love to have if we do.

    Reply
    • Yes, you’ll be in for a treat. Come to think of it, I have not had it in Indian food but it is often an ingredient in Chinese stir fries.

      Reply
  2. I love asparagus! I cannot grow it where we live, but we eat it when it’s available. It’s very tasty grilled. Blessings to you, Tammy…

    Reply
  3. Lisa H

     /  March 25, 2012

    I was just thinking of planting some crowns, so your timing is perfect. Now is the time to plant asparagus in Phoenix.
    You introduced us to grilled asparagus, and it’s pretty much the only way we eat it. We especially like the thin over the thick asparagus, as it tends to be more tender. Drizzling balsamic vinegar over the asparagus after grilling is also good.
    Believe it or not, my kids prefer the stems, so Ken and I totally make out on the deal, as we get to eat the leftover tips!

    Reply
    • Greg at the Urban Farm has a bed Lisa and you should check it out. I was really surprised that we could grow it in the desert.

      Reply
  4. Yes, the agave spikes do look like asparagus! I’ve never tried grilling asparagus; sounds good!

    Hmmm – you know how the hearts of certain varieties of agave are pit-fired and become wonderfully sweet to eat? I wonder if something similar might work with asparagus crowns??

    Reply
    • Yes, perhaps and then the size wouldn’t matter as much but it would be an awfully small heart.

      Reply
  5. dedangelo

     /  March 25, 2012

    I have no shame when it comes to being an asparagus glutton — one of the perks of living alone, I guess. Just this past Friday, I roasted an entire pound in olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, then doused it with lemon juice and sprinkled some feta on top. Perfect dinner!

    Reply
  6. It was Barbara Kingsolver’s description of asparagus that prompted me to plant an asparagus bed, too. I planted mine about 4-5 years ago, and there is nothing like the taste of freshly picked asparagus. I’m so spoiled by homegrown asparagus that I won’t buy it in the store anymore. What’s really thrilling is watching how fast the spears grow. One that just popped its head up in the morning will sometimes be ready to pick by evening.

    Reply
    • I haven’t tried it and didn’t even know until creating this post that it would grow in my neck of the woods.

      Reply
  7. I love Asparagus… and have only ever eaten it from a can ~ or at a restaurant. *Smile* I’ve never even considered growing it! 🙂 I wonder if the monkeys like them, if not I definitely need to give them a go. *Grin* Thanks for the really interesting read Tammy, you have evoked all sorts of thoughts and ideas. *Smile*

    Reply
  8. I’m in complete agreement with your boys but I love asparagus anyway. I can remember the first time I ate fresh (late teens) after a childhood of canned (with a mother who loved canned vegetables). I’ve been known to eat a pound by myself.

    Reply
    • You’re the second reader to talk about putting a way a pound so I’ve drastically underestimated serving sizes!

      Reply
  9. I made a similar dish with green aspargaus: I grilled them & then added drizzles of a fruity extra virgin olive oil & some Maldon sea salt flakes afterwards: yummy & tasty! 🙂
    But I do prefer the lovely white asparagus: that’s what Belgium is famous for!

    Reply
  10. Great post. I’ve been working on my garden and somehow forgot all about asparagus until I read this. I’ll get right on it…

    I love it sauteed with a bit of oil and topped with a poached egg (farm fresh of course) and grated parm. Yum! And, I threaten to pickle it every year, but we never have any left over.

    Reply
  11. my favorite veggie! love it grilled, with a mist of oil, salt, pepper and a little squirt or two of lemon!

    Reply
  12. love asparagus…ate some last night 🙂 I brushed some olive oil, salt, and pepper, then put it under the broiler for a few min.

    Reply
  13. Recently I attended the Mid Atlantic Vegetable Grower’s Convention at Hershey. I took a class just on growing asparagus. Some other tips I learned that I can share is to place leaf and chicken manure compost in the ditch if you prep your bed in the fall. They recommended 12 cubic yards per acre. Also, planting fava or soybeans as a companion planting with your asparagus will keep the nitrogen levels optimum each year.

    Reply
  14. Hmmm, I read Barbara Kingsolver too, but planting asparagus still intimidated me. Perhaps I should rethink it!

    Reply
  15. Tammy, this is the second post I’ve read this weekend about asparagus . . .grilled even. And I was going to ask about it’s nutritional value, and you put that in here. It packs a punch! Thank you! And by the way . . .love the title! 🙂

    Reply
    • It is a great food especially for people like me who fight their weight. It makes you feel full.

      Reply
  16. Great information…I really want to grow asparagus in our garden. We just have to find the right spot.

    Reply
    • It does best in a place that freezes once during the winter. Don’t know if that happens for you.

      Reply
  17. hunting the young sprouts along now gone fence rows was an annual yummy event. Ive grown it since from scratch but nothing will match pulling off the country road and grabbing some

    Reply
  18. I love the fact that your kids have something to share with us! And they are right, healthy kidneys do that to asparagus. If your kidneys are not working properly then there is no smell 🙂

    Reply
  19. Just had some asparagus last night in my pasta dish… mmmm! I always knew it was healthy, but thanks for spelling it out.

    Reply
  20. Absolutely love asparagus and have always wanted to grow it in our garden. Can I plant this now?

    A really easy and classy asparagus app is wrapping blanched spears with prosciutto then phyllo dough, sprinkle with grated parm and bake. Yum!

    Reply
    • I don’t know the answer. Call your extension office. They are a wealth of information on many things and will certainly know the answer to this.

      Reply
  21. I love asparagus 🙂 And I really love to cook it as simply as it can be 🙂 Your recipe looks really tempting 🙂

    Reply
  22. We love asparagus . . . roasted, grilled, steamed, pan-fried, stir fried. YUMMY!

    If it it does make our pee stink! 😉

    Reply
  23. I love this time of year, especially since it ushers in asparagus season. Last year for Easter, I made Barbara Kingsolver’s savory bread pudding recipe from “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which features asparagus. Your recipe sounds equally delicious, but decidedly lighter.

    Reply
  24. Heather

     /  March 26, 2012

    I never would have thought asparagus was that interesting. Yet, it is!

    Reply
  25. That asparagus is so huge, honestly I never try that recipe as I prefer then boiled as part of avocado salad however this sounds nice. Greets inventory clerks london

    Reply
  26. We are a few weeks away yet from seeing the first shoots and getting to savour the delights of asparagus, I can’t wait!!

    Reply
    • From my experience, I think that asparagus actually has a heartier following in the UK

      Reply
  27. Deb Weyrich-Cody

     /  March 27, 2012

    Hi Tammy, You’re quite a bit ahead of us here, so when the annual craving for asparagus hit last week, I gave in and bought a whole bundle. (It steams up so quickly in the nuker that I’ve devoured it as a special treat with my midday meal every day since; )
    Getting veggies into my son’s diet was always a bit of a chore but, with asparagus’ unique response while cleansing the kidneys, the race to be the first to have an “asparagus pee” made him a willing participant in the great veggie race.
    Thanks for bringing back some great memories!
    Oh, and due to it’s high folic acid content, when eaten during early pregnancy, asparagus helps prevent neural tube defects like Scoliosis.
    Thanks for the information-packed post, 😀

    Reply
  28. My bit of asparagus trivia is the diameter is based on the age of the plant: older plants throw up fatter shoots. Interestingly, Europeans tend of favor the fat ones while Americans tend toward leaner shoots. I love it simply steamed and tossed over low heat with butter and garlic.

    Oh, and whether you can smell the odor depends on your genes. Apparently it’s recessive, as Mom can smell, Dad can’t, and I can’t. They say everyone experiences it, some of us just don’t notice!

    Reply
  29. Ooooohh, I love asparagus! Can’t wait for the season to begin! 😀

    Reply
  30. Your yard is wonderful! We won’t start yet, but maybe in three weeks, if we are lucky. I hope the fire didn’t destroy my lovely plants. If it did…sigh.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    Reply
  31. Asparagus is one of my favorites! I’m a bit worried that the cold/hot/cold weather we’ve had is going to mess up the local season though…

    Reply
  32. I’ve never grown asparagus but I’ve heard it’s maxing fresh from the garden. Alas we’re lowly getting into Autumn but I think I’m v inspired by your post 🙂

    Reply
    • Well, if you do try it, let me know. Personally, I haven’t grown it and won’t until I have a bit more time but I will be in the garden this weekend.

      Reply
  33. Okay, now I am intrigued. I think I will have to make room in my new garden beds for some asparagus — I had no idea it was a perennial!

    Reply
  34. That’s a great optical illusion, Tammy! I loved reading Kingsolver on asparagus, too. I like that it’s something you plant for the future, either your future self or even the people who will live there after you.

    Reply
  35. When I read the care it takes to grow asparagus it seems a miracle that they turn up in the shops with such regularity! I adore asparagus. Could eat it till the cows come home.

    Reply
  36. I love asparagus. On a medical level, a friend of mine always points out that asparagus makes some people’s urine really stink. While others. Nothing.

    Reply
    • According to GroundCherry, it’s a recessive gene that causes the difference in some people.

      Reply
  37. Great post (and, all the posts lately have been superb – if I commented for each time one really struck me, each post would have several – you’re awesome, Tammy, and such an inspiration to me!) — I planted an asparagus bed, now entering season 3! So excited! As I play a tug-of-war sometimes with whether to sell my ‘tiny farm’ or stick it out here, one thing that literally keeps me rooted and grounded is my asparagus. I have a very small row, but — it is divine. I ended up not eating/cutting any the first year, the second year I did cut about a 1/3 and eat, and this year, there is no holding back. Asparagus in everything! I have read a bit about asparagus celebrations in other countries — sounds like something to start here! (oh, and ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ is one of my faves. I actually downloaded with a free audiobook download, and just continuously listen to it in the car when I’m alone. Its kind of fun to hear Ms. Kingsolver’s voice, as well as her husband and kids.)

    Reply
    • Kingsolver is a great writer. Poisonwood Bible was one of my favorite books and then she went and wrote about food! What could be better. I love the idea of listening to her in the car. Jealous of your asparagus patch and tiny farm too!

      Reply
  38. Barbara Kingsolver’s description of the asparagus bed stuck in my mind as well… I didn’t know it could last for 12 years. That’s awesome.

    Reply
  39. Kristen

     /  April 9, 2012

    I live for grilled or roasted asparagus, thanks for reminding me I need to get some!

    Reply
  40. What a great post for this time of the year, Tammy ! Asparagus are “in” around here at this time of the year. Always part of our Easter family meal. Mostly with a “hollandaise sauce”. The way I like them is simply eaten with olive oil, some lemon juice and dill herbs. I am also one of B. Kingsolver’s fan and I so enjoyed the book about food she wrote with her husband and their daughters. Listening to her voice would be great !I have not read Poisonwood Bible but loved Thje Bean Tree and recently La Lacuna. Her “Essays” are good too.
    So nice to be visiting you again, dear Tammy.

    Reply
    • Great to see you too Isa. Yes, I love the Bean Tree also and will have to pick up La Lacuna. She used to live close by but now has moved across country. I really enjoyed the format where she told the story, her husband did the technical stuff and the daughter did the recipes.

      Reply
  41. My favorite veggie! I like to sauté it with some thinly sliced ginger – an idea I got out of a book called Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings by Edwardd Espe Brown

    Reply
    • I’ve heard of Edward Espe Brown!

      Reply
      • He’s the guy who wrote “Tassajara Bread Book” – an iconic tome of the hippie era. Seems like a very cool guy – the book I’ve referenced here is more philosophy than recipe, but I do think you’d like it.

        Reply
  42. I like mine grilled after a short marinade in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. And it’s also great steamed with a little mayo smeared on it (I have a university roommate to thank for introducing me to the mayo thing – its amazing).

    Reply
  43. I planted a new asparagus bed 2 years ago, so next year we can harvest for the first time – I can’t wait!! Good to know that they freeze well.

    Reply
    • I was just visiting my grandmother and took a walk along the creek. There were all the wild asparagus that I remember picking as a child. Enjoy yours.

      Reply

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