This is a very exciting time of the year for me. Someone asked me the other day what is my favorite thing to cook and my response was “anything seasonal”. I love to walk around my place and pick this and that to make for the meal. Since we are smack dab in the middle of asparagus season, I thought I would spend today talking about it. Though it is strictly a springtime veggie in our area, it isn’t too late to start an asparagus bed at this time. Asparagus beds can be started with seed or with crowns, though to fully the harvest the spears needs to wait until the third year and the bed will flourish for at least 10 years.
Asparagus likes sandy or light loamy soils. If you have clay soil like I do, sand and compost need to be added to lighten it up. To plant: dig a trench 12” wide and six inches deep and as long as you want the bed to be. To plant more than one asparagus trench, space the trenches 4-5’ apart. If you plant the crowns too shallow, the spears will be thinner and tougher and deeper plantings slow shoot emergence.
Place well-rotted composted on the bottom of the trench and place one year old crowns 18” apart and cover with soil. Remember not to pick any of the spears that emerge and only pick about 10% if the spears the second year for only 2-3 weeks. The third year you should be able to harvest for 6-8 weeks.
Keeping the patch weeded is very important for the health of the asparagus bed. My bed is a mix of spears, dandelions and garlic and my yield is minimal. The weeds are one problem, but the other problem is that I relocated my asparagus bed a couple of years ago and the older crowns never really recovered from the transplant shock. Next spring I am planning to purchase one year old crowns start the bed over. I will leave this current bed as is until the new bed is up and running, then will till it up.
White asparagus has been blanched by being covered with soil. The flavor is milder than green asparagus.
How much to plant: about 1# of asparagus can be harvested from each foot of length in the trench: 50’ trench should yield 50#.
Once asparagus starts to come on, pick when the stalks are 8-12” tall by simply snapping them at the base. If the stalks are very skinny or have started to go to seed, leave the foliage to grow to help produce a good crop next spring. Cutting the dead (brown) tops back in late fall is ok; however, it's generally recommended that the dead top growth be allowed to stand over winter. The dead growth will catch and hold snow. The snow insulates the asparagus crowns and also provides moisture.
It is possible to freeze asparagus, but many think that it is inferior to fresh. I won’t even talk about canned asparagus.
To purchase asparagus look for plump, crisp, straight stems w/tightly furled tips avoiding spreading tips, wilted or shriveled stems. Stalks can be stored in the ‘frig, wrapped for a day or two.
To prepare asparagus for eating: snap at the point of tenderness, though peeling the stems in optional.
What to do with asparagus: no matter what recipe you plan to use, the key is to cook the asparagus lightly, just 2-3 minutes at the most. Tasty and attractive as a crudités served with an interesting dip like a creamy curry, steamed and served with lemon butter or béarnaise sauce (hollandaise sauce w/a tarragon reduction) - classic dish, as a gratin (creamy cheese sauce), as a salad, as an appetizer- blanch 2 minutes, marinade in balsamic vinaigrette and roll in fresh crepes, creamy soups, cut up in quiche, stir fried, grilled, roasted and simply steamed lightly and served with salt, pepper and butter.
Marinated Grilled (or roasted) Asparagus
1# fresh asparagus, snapped at the point of tenderness
Toss prepared asparagus with the vinaigrette and set aside for 10 minutes.
To grill: over medium heat, spread out spears across grill rack. Grill for 5-8 minutes, turning every 2 minutes until tender.
To roast: spread marinated spears in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for 5-8 minutes, turning once half way through the cooking time.
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