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Archive for Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bundles of joy

Spring freeze merely stalls arrival of fresh asparagus

April 18, 2007

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Erick Cofer, a produce employee, changes the water for the asparagus at Checkers Foods, 2300 La., on Saturday morning. Many farmers lost their asparagus during the recent freeze, causing higher prices for grocery stores and their customers.

Erick Cofer, a produce employee, changes the water for the asparagus at Checkers Foods, 2300 La., on Saturday morning. Many farmers lost their asparagus during the recent freeze, causing higher prices for grocery stores and their customers.

John Pendleton displays the damage done to some of his asparagus at his county market on Saturday.

John Pendleton displays the damage done to some of his asparagus at his county market on Saturday.

Although Many local farmers lost their early asparagus in the recent freeze, the crop is expected to make a rebound within a week. This is due, in part, to how quickly asparagus grows - as much as 10 inches per day if weather conditions are ideal.

Although Many local farmers lost their early asparagus in the recent freeze, the crop is expected to make a rebound within a week. This is due, in part, to how quickly asparagus grows - as much as 10 inches per day if weather conditions are ideal.

Asparagus, like the robin, has long been a sign of springtime.

When farmers markets open this time of the year, the green spears are often the first varieties of produce ripe for consumption.

So if you went to opening day at the Lawrence Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, you might have been a bit disappointed. The local asparagus, at least so far, has been ruined by the freeze.

"It's the first thing of the season, and people are usually out here wanting to come out here on a nice day and pick it themselves," says Karen Pendleton, co-owner of Pendleton's Country Market east of Lawrence. "But asparagus won't even take a frost. It ruins anything above ground. And it almost sends the message down to the root: 'You don't want to come up here.'"

Good news, though: Unlike some other produce, asparagus will make a rebound. Pendleton is expecting to pick asparagus in about a week.

"Our best guess is that it would be a week from (today)," Pendleton says. "It's one crop that local really makes a huge difference. So fortunately, asparagus will come back. It's not like it's all gone for the season."

That rebound is due, in part, to how quickly asparagus grows - as much as 10 inches a day, in perfect weather conditions.

Asparagus is packed full of vitamins A, C and E. It's also a good source of folate, a nutrient that is key for cell production and may help protect against heart disease, according to the American Dietetic Association.

Just a half-cup serving of asparagus delivers a third of the recommended daily intake of folate.

"Every nutrient is important, but folate delivers a lot of bang for the buck," says Cynthia Sass, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman.

She adds that folate - which also is found in large quantities in fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, navy beans, orange juice and avocados - helps prevent birth defects.

Patricia Wells, author of the new book "Vegetable Harvest," says a simple braise brings out the mineral-rich, woodsy flavors of the asparagus, and the dish needs no further embellishment.

Green or purple asparagus would be the easiest options for that preparation. White asparagus, which is milder in flavor, also can be used. Most white asparagus should be peeled before cooking.

When shopping for asparagus, look for firm stalks with tight tips. Fresh asparagus should snap when bent. Though best eaten the day purchased, asparagus can be refrigerated, wrapped in a damp cloth inside a plastic bag, for three days.

Opinion is divided, but many people believe large stalks are sweeter and juicier than thin ones. White asparagus tends to be less flavorful. Purple asparagus will have a fruity flavor.

Peeling tough-skinned stalks with a vegetable peeler will help ensure that the tips and stalks cook at the same rate. And be sure to rinse all asparagus thoroughly before cooking to remove any lingering sand.

For an even simpler preparation, try microwaving a pound of asparagus with a few tablespoons of water in a covered glass dish for about 3 minutes, or until tender.

Pendleton says she prefers an even simpler approach with her asparagus.

"We're so busy this time off the year, we take our purple asparagus and eat it raw," she says. "It's sweeter than green. It tastes like fresh peas. We might heat it up on the grill a little and eat it with dressing."

Comments

Ragingbear 7 years, 8 months ago

Asparagus thrives in frigid spring weather and actually is considered a weed in many parts of the country. In my youth, I used to walk along irrigation ditches in Idaho and gather 30 gallon trashbags full of it within an hour's time, usually less. They were always tender, juicy, and having no bitterness or aftertaste to them. Those scrawny things you see in the stores are farm grown garbage, and typically not worth much.

Look for asparagus that is firm. The stalks should snap when bent. The buds should be well developed but not blooming or branching to any degree.

For preparation, it is important to understand that the outer part of the plant is typically very fibrous, while the innards are soft, even before cooking. Do not try to cook out the fibrous nature of the plant. Instead, cook it in a way that it is used as part of the resulting meal. I would suggest that an average bunch of Asparagus would need little more than a basic heating up of the entire plant. Grilling for 10 minutes off in the corner of your grill is a good method. I would commonly sit my steak or other grilled meat on top of the asparagus when served. Thus keeping it warm, but not having it to continue to cook itself.

lily 7 years, 8 months ago

Hated the stuff as kid but then my mom cooked it until it was mush. Love it now and wish the rest of the family did. I like to blanch it then put a bit of butter and parmesan cheese on it. Yum! I remember when I thought it was a weed in the yard. Appeared out of nowhere.

Ragingbear 7 years, 8 months ago

Yeah. It grows like a weed. Will form in large amounts all around irrigation ditches and other places near a significant amount of water. They will need to be picked quickly, as they get tough very quickly. To harvest, take a small knife, place into the ground at the base of the stalk, cut into the stalk and twist.This will cut it below ground level. This is the best way to cut them, even though it may not appear so. For some reason, this facilitates the growth of more. Of course, the only real way to get rid of them is to treat with herbicides or burning.

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