The arrival of asparagus at Pendleton's Kaw Valley Country Market makes it official
What a difference a few days -- and a lot of sunshine -- make.
On Friday, scattered asparagus spears were poking their tips through the soil at John and Karen Pendleton's farm east of Lawrence, braving chilly winds and an occasional cloudburst.
But two days of bright sunshine, warm weather and overnight lows in the 50s brought a growth spurt the likes of which astounded even a veteran asparagus farmer like John Pendleton.
"It grew as much over last night as it normally does during the daytime at this time of year," he said today. "I knew what to expect this morning, but I was still surprised. ... There are literally thousands of pounds out there."
The annual asparagus harvest at Pendleton's Kaw Valley Country Market began Sunday and will continue for six weeks, or until the asparagus is gone.
The farm's name was changed from Pendleton's Kaw Valley Asparagus to reflect the variety of produce available.
Asparagus-haters had avoided the farm on Country Road 1850E and were unaware that the Pendletons also sell tomatoes, rhubarb, spinach, bedding plants, perennials, dried flower arrangements and produce from other farmers, Karen Pendleton said.
"I've had people tell me, 'Oh, I don't like asparagus, I've never been out,' and they were real surprised when I tell them what else we have," she said.
In addition to the 20 acres of green asparagus planted north of the railroad tracks, the Pendletons have put in 2,000 purple asparagus plants.
"It doesn't turn green when you cook it," Karen Pendleton said. "The purple and green taste about the same."
The couple, both graduates of Kansas State University, say they're ready for some ribbing over planting a purple crop in Big Blue country.
Customers come from all over eastern Kansas for the asparagus harvest, and sometimes more cars in the parking lot are from Shawnee and Johnson counties than Douglas County, Karen Pendleton said.
As always, families are welcome at the farm, her husband said, adding that he doesn't worry about youngsters stomping on the tender asparagus spears.
"We encourage families to come out with their kids," he said. "The parents are real good about showing their kids where the asparagus is growing. It's important for them to see how and where it grows. And to taste it raw in the field is really quite a treat."
Not everyone likes it so fresh, Karen Pendleton acknowledged.
"Everyone has their own way," she said. "John likes to eat it in the field. I prefer it blanched in a couple of tablespoons of water. It's just a matter of taste."
Asparagus aficionados can pick up a couple of pounds of their favorite veggie, along with Karen Pendleton's cookbook of asparagus recipes for hors d'oeuvres, roll-ups, fresh asparagus soup (John Pendleton's favorite), casseroles and quiches, cookies, bundt cake and ice cream.
The farm is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. From the corner of 15th Street and Haskell Avenue, drive 3 1/2 miles east on 15th to County Road 1850 E, turn right and drive south one-half mile.
As in previous years, customers pay $1 per pound to pick the vegetable themselves.
But the price of Pendleton-picked asparagus is going up from $1.50 to $1.65 a pound this year, the first increase since the farm opened 13 years ago, John Pendleton said.
Blame the price increase on last summer's flooding and the September hailstorm, which damaged and destroyed crops and buildings at the farm, he said.