Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Asparagus Aplenty

My stovetop has been covered by a steady precipitation of salt, pepper and parmesan for the past month.  I’ve wiped it down, believe me, but the mess just keeps coming back.  The forecast for tomorrow: another seasoning snowstorm.  The offending sloppy sprinkler is yours truly and I have two problems:  
1.  I can't seem to sprinkle seasonings in a tidy pattern (I'm a messy painter, too.)
2.  I've developed a taste for fried asparagus. 

I have memories of creamed asparagus on toast as a child, but until recently, my adult culinary skills were pretty limited in that department.  So I ate it raw.  Until this year.  I bought myself a garlic press and now I’m cooking EVERYTHING with olive oil and garlic.  Asparagus, as it turns out, tastes pretty great fried with garlic and sloppily sprinkled with salt, pepper and parmesan.   

Compounding my kitchen cleaning conundrum is the fact that I live next door to the King and Queen of Asparagus.  If you're acquainted with Dan and Denise Lowe, then you've probably eaten their asparagus.  By day, Dan's a diesel mechanic, but he moonlights as an asparagusologist (word of my own creation).  And this is one serious hobby: Dan planted 2000 Jersey Knight plants in a field north of Irwin.  He’s been eating ditchweed since he was a wee rabble rouser, picking it along the roadsides.  Back then, he just boiled his wild treasure.  But these days he eats it (courtesy of Denise) grilled, fried, baked, steamed, in soups, omelets and casseroles.  His favorite recipe is asparagus fried in butter with diced ham and cheese.  His very supportive sweetie has picked 350 gallons of asparagus this year.  Seventy gallons have been put up in their freezer and the rest has been given away (hence my messy stovetop). 

Dan and Denise's field started out as nine trenches, 250 feet long and 10" deep.  The asparagus starts were planted in the trenches and as they grew, Dan buried them, bit by bit, until they reached the top of the trench.  Then he mounded soil over the plants.  At that point, the waiting began: the Lowes allowed the field to grow unhindered for three years before they began harvesting.  This practice enhances the size of the root ball and encourages the development of lateral growing points.  A mature, well-maintained plant can grow to the size of a bushel basket.

Dan’s field of asparagus is NOT politically correct.  No girls allowed.  Well, no girl asparagus plants, anyway.  Reason being that introducing both male and female plants opens the door for baby asparagus plants everywhere.  By limiting the selection, he keeps nice, clean rows.  Easier for picking and maintaining.  Speaking of maintaining, asparagus has an unusual requirement.  It needs salt, which explains why it grows so well in ditches.  Right around the last snowfall of the year (or in a snow sparse year: March) Dan covers his asparagus bed with water softener salt.  It should be covered enough to appear as if there has been a light snowfall.  

When your ditchweed is prime for picking, follow these guidelines:
1.  Cut the stalk below the soil.  It will regenerate more quickly.
2.  Don’t cut anything less than 4 inches tall or thinner than the diameter of a pencil.
3.  Don’t wait too long to cut it.  Asparagus gets tough in a hurry.  Dan and Denise pick twice a day in the peak of the season. 
4.  Pick until the middle of June.  Then it’s time to let it go to seed.  This allows the plant to build up sugar reserves for next year’s crop.

Yes, yes, I know it’s the second week of June.  I haven’t given you much time to cover your stovetop with salt, pepper and parmesan.  But there's still enough asparagus around to get you started and then you'll be all revved up for zucchini season.  


Casa Mariposa said...

You're making me hungry!!! I love asparagus!! The Lowe's seem like extremely cool people. How incredible that you know them. Do you think they'd ship me some? ;o) My neighbors once gave me a plate of Indian food, my favorite cuisine. I was pretty happy. :o)

Lyn said...

Sounds yum!

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