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Archive for Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Asparagus shunned by skeptics in society

April 23, 2008

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As the ground warms in April, it forces new life to the surface, sending up daffodils, tulips and my personal favorite of all spring perennials: asparagus. The early tips - fleshy and tender as they always are at the beginning of the season - began poking through the soil in clusters last weekend, a sure indicator of a bountiful crop.

While I fantasize about having more asparagus than we can possibly eat, I understand that not everyone shares this passion. At the same time, I can't tell whether the asparagus detractors are a significant segment of the eating population, as I don't think anyone polls for this sort of thing. Without hard data, we are left to speculate, which is more fun anyway.

Also, I sense that people who don't like asparagus keep it to themselves for fear of seeming culinarally incorrect. There's nothing more humiliating than being ostracized by an asparagus-loving foodie. At fancy dinners, I occasionally notice someone gently sliding stalks of asparagus over to the side of the plate, attempting to be inconspicuous. This is wasted subtlety, because asparagus lovers always notice. It's all we can do not to lean over and whisper, "So, if you're not going to be eating that ..."

Asparagus has at least four things going against it, which might explain some people not seeing asparagus as spring's finest gift. Strike 1 is its price, which can be steep unless you grow your own. But once you plant some asparagus crowns in the back yard, which should be done in early spring, you will have a free supply of asparagus for the rest of your life. Still, the price probably has kept some people from trying it.

The second knock on asparagus results from negative perceptions about its texture. This really says more about the people who select the asparagus spears and the way they cook them than about the vegetable itself. If asparagus is not young and fresh, it will not be tender. After it stands unpicked in the yard or lies in the produce department too long, it becomes stringy, tough and dry.

The flip side of this texture problem is in the cooking. Many people simply leave it on the stove way too long. In just a few minutes, asparagus can turn to mush, and there's nothing charming about eating it then. The goal is always to serve it either al dente, when it is still slightly crisp, or when it is just beginning to go soft in the center.

Because asparagus can only be cooked so much, it fails miserably as a canned vegetable. People who have only eaten it canned have not had the same taste experience.

The flavor of asparagus is the third obstacle for some people. While I loved asparagus the first time I tasted it, the flavor is strong and distinctive and I can see where it might not appeal to everyone. For some people, asparagus may be an acquired taste, but I suspect that bad experiences with overcooked or tough asparagus and lack of familiarity may be factors here as well.

The fourth strike is the delicate problem with the way asparagus makes the urine smell approximately 30 minutes after the meal. Asparagus contains an amino acid that produces a distinctive odor during the digestive process. Notably, this same amino acid is an ingredient in the defensive spray that skunks emit.

While the kidneys rid the body of this aroma in a few hours, some people think twice about eating asparagus because of it, especially if they will be using a public restroom. I was stunned to learn the extent to which people obsess about this odor issue. A Google search on the words "asparagus" and "urine" yielded 121,000 links. That's more than 12,000 pages of entries.

While the size of the anti-asparagus contingent is a mystery, I do know that the fans of asparagus are numerous enough to have persuaded many Midwestern farmers markets to start selling in April, a month earlier than they used to. Under the old farmers market calendar, vendors didn't start setting up their booths until May, when the asparagus crop had run its course.

Now the asparagus crop, the edible harbinger of spring, kicks off the gardening season at many local markets. It certainly does so in my kitchen as well.

When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

Comments

Multidisciplinary 5 years, 12 months ago

Update, that person that was at Teller's is last seen in Emporia, and online employment sites.

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dumas 5 years, 12 months ago

Shatt ... I suggest you go suck on some sour grapes.

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cool 5 years, 12 months ago

best Joan Rivers joke:asparagus ?it look's like mr. gumbee poo poo.......

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Multidisciplinary 5 years, 12 months ago

Py, I hear you about the coffee thing. Heavy coffee use changes the taste of something. If serious coffee drinkers would realize they are driving their partners away from doing certain things, coffee sales might plummet.

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Multidisciplinary 5 years, 12 months ago

Just had the image of someone being a jr high class mate who later became a chef.He had the fowlest mouth any child ever had back then, his thing in life was being offensive to everyone.Last I heard he was a chef at Teller's (yes, i was shocked).Now I'm really wondering.

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notnowdear 5 years, 12 months ago

Remind me again and again, shatt, not to eat where you are cooking.Just planted some more asparagus in the bare spots of our asparagus grove.I don't eat asparagus because it is the "in" thing to do. I eat it because I love it. AND long, long ago, I found it certainly tastes a lot better if you use your fingers to eat it, which I hear is indeed socially acceptable in public as well. BUT since I am not going to eat at shatt's place for fear of e-choli issues. and because I use my fingers with asparagus, I will be very happy to eat it only at home, where it grows in abundance, where it is cooked and prepared in the very best way. Sorry, shatt, I like my own cooking, and don't need yours.

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tolawdjk 5 years, 12 months ago

Man, removed on an article about asparagus?That has to be a first.

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Shatt 5 years, 12 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Shatt 5 years, 12 months ago

Are you kidding me? LJW doesn't have anything better to write about than people who dont like asparagus? WOW! One more thing...I am a chef at a local country club and have worked at several higher end restaurants in KC and STL. I can't stand the food snobs who think they have 'taste' because they enjoy asparagus. Asparagus is about as far down as you can get on the 'elite foods' list. Its about at the same place as Strawberry Ice Wine on the 'good wines' list. Asparagus was only made popular because of the Food Network...an organization that ruined the culinary arts practice, and flooded it with wanna be TV stars that attempt to fix a broken hollandaise sauce with a roux... GTFO of my kitchen. Oh well, we make a killing off your poor taste. In the commercial cooking world, we pay more for celery and onions than we do for asparagus. Enjoy.

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Multidisciplinary 5 years, 12 months ago

My mom, an old southern woman with years of profound gardening experience, went to Pendletons to bend her broken body down to cut some. She said the rows were a mix, some was too large and tough to cut, but much was okay. She skipped over the "tough too hard to chew", and proceeded. Pendleton came along and told her she had to clear cut the row. She wasn't about to spend money on asparagus that would be thrown away, not even good enough for a farmer to sell at the store.She pulled herself up and left. And told everyone about it, I'm sure. She hated being robbed.Canned is so metalic, even in a white lined can, wonder if there is a special reason for that?I tried planting a few rows. The first year there wasn't enough to cook for one meal. The next year, only a few of the plants came up at all. So much for that experiment.I have driven by old places and seen someone's long forgotten patch, or maybe it was seed blown to this place. Too honorable to go raid it. Hated to see it go to waste.I myself wear out standing and cutting off all the side barbs to clean it.It's not worth it.Funny story, when I returned to my spouse after being gone for many months,and I believe the topic was what have you been doing?. One of his first repsonses was a shocked," Well I learned what asparagus can do to you!".I should have asked for more info, he probably ended up at the doctor's office LOL.

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Celeste 5 years, 12 months ago

mmmmmmm. asparagus. I totally love that delectable vegetable.

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bearded_gnome 5 years, 12 months ago

I agree with Py 100%! no, I wouldn't be moving it over to the side on my plate, I might be feeding it to my dog, who loves asparagus. oh, where have I gone wrong with him? he also loves brussels sprouts which I can't stand. the article doesn't mention that at the pendleton farm, they have customers go out and pick their own. they have purple asparagus. how do I know? mrs. gnome loves the stuff. and, besides the pendletons are cool.

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Dont_Feed_The_Bears 5 years, 12 months ago

I just ordered 50 plants.. been meaning to put in a bed for the last 15 years. This is the time to do it if you are going to put in a bed. I just have to wait for 3 years before I start cutting.

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autie 5 years, 12 months ago

steamed, grilled, boiled, baked..no matter...al dente is best but mushy is still good..bring it on..good and good for you.

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Clint Gentry 5 years, 12 months ago

I have always supposed that the smell was a function of a "kidney cleansing" if you will. I assumed that something that forces it's way through your kidneys so quickly would have to be picking up any "debris" and expelling it when you urinate. Besides this supposed health effect, I just like the taste, a little olive oil, salt, voila...

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Tony Kisner 5 years, 12 months ago

I don't eat as many green things as I should but I too love asparagus. I am glad to hear that the urine thing is not just me. I was thinking of having my kidney function checked. Pew.On the grill in foil with olive oil, maybe a little garlic.

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Agnostick 5 years, 12 months ago

Hot off the grill is excellent!madmike--sounds interesting, we'll have to try that.Agnostickagnostick@excite.comhttp://www.uscentrist.orghttp://www.americanplan.org

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madmike 5 years, 12 months ago

I like to roast it in the oven at 350 for about 12-15 minutes, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt.

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countrygirl 5 years, 12 months ago

I like it grilled as well, but not too crazy about it any other way.

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ontheotherhand 5 years, 12 months ago

Gwyn's right: very tasty if cooked correctly and very nasty if it's too old or overcooked. I like cooking it on the grill because it does not take too long. I wonder how hard it is to grow my own . . .

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Pywacket 5 years, 12 months ago

Gwyn, I promise--if you ever sit next to me at a dinner party at which asparagus is served, you can have my share! I hated it as a child, and have tried it every few years since, not wanting to believe that I would have to miss out on something everyone else considers a rare treat, but alas--the taste is still as offensive to me as it was when I was a kid. And, yes, it was cooked correctly.I love broccoli, spinach, beets, and most other vegetables that have a limited fan base, but I'm resigned to the fact that I'm never gonna do cartwheels over asparagus. Those who love the stuff are welcome to my share.It's funny how everybody obsesses over the urine thing, but nobody says a word about the fact that the scent of coffee also survives the digestive process and emerges recognizably as "bladder brew aroma." I don't think I have ever read one article about that phenomenon. Maybe most coffee drinkers don't notice it since they drink coffee all the time. Since I'm primarily a tea drinker, I notice the coffee-urine thing whenever I've had coffee.

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