Sunday, May 2, 2021

Harvest of the Month | Asparagus

asparagusWhat is Asparagus?

Garden asparagus, asparagus officinalis, is a perennial flowering plant. It belongs to the Asparagus genus, along with other perennial bushes and plants. Asparagus is dioecious, meaning some plants have flowers with a stamen and produce pollen, and other plants have flowers that have a pistil and make seeds. This means that a variety of plants are needed for reproduction. When you eat asparagus, you’re actually eating the immature stalk of the entire plant. Most asparagus is harvested when it is about six to ten inches long, but when left to mature, it grows into four-foot-tall plants with long fern-like branches. 

History and Facts

Some varieties of Asparagus have been known to be culturally significant since 3000 BC where it was depicted in Egyptian architecture. In the book A Curious History of Vegetables, Wolf D. Storl reports that asparagus was a highly prized gift or novelty for royalty spanning across the globe, from Egypt, Asia, Rome, France and beyond. “In Ancient China, honored guests were treated, upon their arrivals, with an asparagus footbath…French monasteries included this plant in their gardens 600 years ago – and, if you wanted to please the Sun King, Louis XIV, you could bring his wife, Madame de Maintenon, a new asparagus recipe.” It was brought to and established in North America by early European immigrants. Today, you can still find wild asparagus around historically significant areas, like the Crown Point State Historic Site along Lake Champlain.

Asparagus

Late spring asparagus at the 2020 Glens Falls Farmers Market

How it is Grown

China, Peru, Mexico, Germany, and Thailand are the primary producers of asparagus internationally. Asparagus is only grown commercially in areas where there is a cool season of rest, otherwise the plants are too spindly and tough to be eaten. As a perennial plant, asparagus is usually one of the very first vegetables to emerge from the ground outdoors in the spring. When it is ready to pick, it grows incredibly fast and may be harvested twice a day. It’s estimated that it can grow up to a half an inch per hour in the right conditions! A single asparagus plant can send up 25 or more spears during a growing season. Once the weather warms up and the stalks begin to become woody, they are left to grow to full maturity. They will quickly grow to waist-high plants with long fern-like branches. This allows the plants to put more energy into their roots for next season’s harvest and allows them to flower and make seeds to reproduce. 

In the Adirondack region, asparagus is grown as part of many diversified farms. Because Asparagus comes back year after year, and requires minimal tending, it is a popular item in home vegetable gardens as well. 

 

How to Enjoy Asparagus

Asparagus provides substantial levels of folic acid, fiber, and other vitamins. It stores best upright in a jar of water like cut flowers or wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Try to cook it as soon as possible to keep the best texture and flavor. Simply snap or trim off the bottom inch or two, and wash under water before preparing. There are endless ways to prepare it, it is great roasted, steamed, sauteed, grilled, and raw.

Asparagus Recipes to try

(One Pan) Roasted Asparagus, Sausage, and Garlic Potatoes by the Saratoga Farmers’ Market

Asparagus Tartines With Crème Fraîche and Soft-boiled Egg by Vermont Creamery

Farm Fresh Roasted Asparagus, by New York Farm to School 

Where to Buy Asparagus

Wherever veggies are sold near you! To find the most tender asparagus, find it locally grown.

Find retail locations, farms, and upcoming farmers’ markets selling asparagus at

adirondackharvest.com/browse

How do you enjoy asparagus? Comment below and let us know!

Photo at top: Asparagus emerging from the soil, almost ready to be harvested. Photo from almanac.com

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Mary Godnick is the Digital Editor for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County. She lives in the Champlain Valley where she grows vegetables on a cooperative farm plot with her partner and two rescue dogs. You can read more of her work on AdirondackHarvest.com and follow her on Twitter at @MaryGodnick.




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