The first edible sign of spring has arrived – asparagus. I discovered the first lonely stalk standing proud, about 8 inches tall, yesterday. Nearby were a few shorter stubs. There wasn’t quite enough for a meal, so the little clump is still standing.
Asparagus was my mom’s favorite vegetable. She started a couple patches growing on the edge of the lawn before I was born – sometime in the 1940’s. The asparagus I saw yesterday represents the direct descendants of these roots.
Early in the spring, my mom and I would go searching for the first asparagus shoots peeking above the grass. My mom held the paring knife and I held the empty plastic bread bag. As soon as I saw a tiny shoot, I’d shout “Here’s one!” My mom would bend over, cut it with the knife, right next to the ground, and hand the shoot to me to put in the bag. We didn’t bother to let the shoots grow tall. The shorter they were, the tenderer they were. Anyway, my mom was too eager to get some to eat. By May, when the weather was warmer, the asparagus grew so fast that we’d get plenty of tall stalks, enough to freeze packages to have throughout the year. Depending on how warm it was, we’d repeat our asparagus search every two or three days.
You would think that with the excitement of picking the asparagus, and my mom’s love of the vegetable, that I would like to eat it, too. No way. I hated the stuff. The flavor was too strong for me. My mom would make me eat one bite – not one stalk – one inch-long bite every meal she served it.
It wasn’t until I was an adult living in Chicago that I began to appreciate its flavor and texture. When we moved back to Wisconsin, about 20 years ago, we discovered an easy recipe for appetizers that made me love asparagus almost as much as my mom had loved it. Basically, you flatten a slice of bread with a rolling pin. (Optional, you may want to cut off the crusts first – we usually don’t bother, but it makes the appetizer look prettier.) Spread cream cheese with chives on one side of the bread. Place three or four stalks of asparagus together in the middle of the bread, and fold the sides of the bread over the asparagus. Place the asparagus-bread roll, seam-side down, on a cookie sheet. Spread butter on the top of the roll and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees about 10 minutes. Just thinking about these appetizers makes me want to go out right now and pick the asparagus shoots I saw yesterday.
In a typical spring (who knows about this year!), by late April, we have so much asparagus we eat it every way we can think of – quiche, strata, soup – and we give it away to whoever will take some. We also freeze a lot, just as my mom did. By June, we let it go to seed so that we can enjoy it again next year. The cycle of life for our two asparagus patches has probably been repeated about 70 years so far.
Isn’t it amazing how God designed all of nature!
After I checked out the asparagus yesterday, I walked around the grounds of Whispering Winds – listening to the birds singing, smelling the hyacinths, and taking pictures of the daffodils, budding lilacs, the redbud tree, the forsythia, the bleeding heart… I even had a short conversation with Gary Gopher again.
I plan to add some of the pictures to the Whispering Winds FaceBook page and the website later today or tomorrow. You may want to check them out. Or, better yet, come to Whispering Winds to see, hear, and smell spring for yourself.