Find it Local Friday: Asparagus

Find it Local Friday: Asparagus

The high temperature in St. Paul may be 57° today, but at least there is asparagus in my fridge. Hah, take that spring!  We patiently wait every year through snow and bitter cold, through chilly spring rains, just to be rewarded with these tender green shoots to emerge.  I eat asparagus 2-3 meals a day in the weeks it is available.  Steamed, baked, grilled, with eggs, with meat, in soup.  Then just when I have had my fill, it disappears and the anticipation begins again.  Psychologists say humans place a greater value on things they have to wait or sacrifice for; perhaps it’s why I am so enchanted by a bunch of neatly tied green stems that make your pee smell funny.  Yes, I just used pee and enchanted in the same sentence. Asparagus is that good.

Sources

Lorence’s Berry Farm Located in Northfield, MN roughly 40 miles south of St. Paul has pre-picked and call-to-order asparagus ready now.  They also have stands at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market where you can purchase a 3 lb. bag for $10.  You’ll see their name again later this summer; they have strawberries and raspberries as well.

Wyatt’s Strawberries Located in Hastings, MN roughly 23 miles south of St. Paul also has pre-picked to your order asparagus.  Their little farm stand among the strawberry fields is worth a trip on a summer Sunday drive.

Farmers’ Market Multiple vendors had asparagus on its début last weekend, which means there will likely be more tomorrow and Sunday. Expect to find it in 1 lb. bundles with a reduced price if you buy 2 or more.

Spargelfest! Although you aren’t going to find it for your own kitchen here, the Black Forest Inn in Minneapolis is in its second weekend of Spargelfest, featuring a menu of traditional and unique asparagus dishes.  All of the asparagus is produced by a Minnesota farm network and brought to the Twin Cities especially for the festival.  Meant to celebrate in the German tradition, the menu even includes an asparagus martini.

How to Buy Asparagus
Asparagus should be purchased in season from a local source to ensure maximum taste.  The idea that thin stems are younger/preferred is not exactly accurate; the girth of the shoot is more about genetics than age.  Look for deep green shoots that are 8-10 inches in length and have smooth, tight, and compact tips.  Anything else and the asparagus is starting to go to seed and get old.  There is some debate about the differences in flavor and quality of purple vs. green. vs. white stems.  Purple and green come from different varieties, however the white stems simply come from hiding the asparagus in leaves or compost to avoid exposure to light.  Nothing fancy, just holding back the chlorophyl.

How to Grow Asparagus
Unlike most of our vegetables in Minnesota, asparagus is a perennial and grows wild on roadsides all over the upper Midwest. To forage your own, I recommend scouting for it when it has gone to seed in the fall, jotting down the location and returning to the spot the following spring. It’s fairly easy to grow and can produce for 10-15 years with the right care, but there are some specifics about when to cut the spears. Best to leave the explanation to the pro’s at the extension office: Growing Asparagus in Minnesota Gardens

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