Last week I harvested the first round of asparagus from our garden. There is nothing better than food fresh from the garden but asparagus must be one of the best tasting fresh veggies. Perhaps it’s because of the Zen-like patience it takes to wait for your plants to get established enough to start producing “harvestable” amounts.
A good asparagus bed takes several years to hit its stride. Year one only takes a few shots, let most of them grow so they can work on growing roots, year 2 harvest only a little bit more. The greedier you are in the beginning, the longer it will take for the plants to get well-established roots. The wait must be what makes them taste so good. I think the biggest misconception about asparagus is that the thick shoots are not as tender or tasty, but in truth, there is no difference in deliciousness based on the diameter of the shoot.
When I lived and worked for a garden center in Oregon, my boss Jack, who I call my Oregon dad, had a 20′ by 100′ greenhouse dedicated to his asparagus beds. I learned a lot about plants from Jack, but I learned the most from him watching him grow food. I worked at the “farm” where all the annuals and perennials were grown for their stores and Jack’s house was in the center of acres and acres of greenhouses. His “garden” was just a few steps out of his back door, I use quotations because his “garden” was acres and consisted of a dedicated greenhouse of asparagus. And yes, acres with an “s”. He had it down to a science; what goes where, how many days each variety took to harvest and what varieties were his favorite. If you weren’t growing his favorite varieties, you weren’t doing it right. Often Jack and his wife Dee would invite me to lunch at the house and every time there were pounds of produce, berries, etc. ready to be cooked, baked into something delicious, or processed. Always extra to put away for winter. On the days I had lunch at the house, at precisely 12:30, Jack would grab me and we would walk through the asparagus greenhouse; “grab that knife kid” in his distinctive voice that I will never forget. He had 2 knives stabbed into the wood of the greenhouse doorway, they weren’t very sharp and they looked 20 years old, probably about the same age as the asparagus beds. It doesn’t take much to cut the tender asparagus and I can just imagine those knives must have harvested tens of thousands of shoots. As we harvested, I didn’t have the heart to tell Jack that I didn’t like asparagus or that I thought I didn’t like asparagus. I did what he told me, helped cook lunch and if you know Jack, there is no way I could say “no” when my plate came. Turns out, maybe the freshness or the experience changed me but I did like the asparagus.
Now I can’t wait to see those shoots pop up in our garden. I ate a few shoots raw right out of the ground, so crisp and tasty. We made a little pasta primavera with peas, parmesan, and asparagus with our first bunch and I’m looking forward to more so I can grill them! Mmm, a little salt, pepper, and olive oil, then throw them on the grill. Helpful hint: If you have a grilling basket, it makes it a lot easier so you aren’t losing precious shoots between the grates.
Ryan Van Wilgen