Welcome Spring with Herbaceous Asparagus

With such delight do we Michiganders greet the first asparagus of the season! It is among the earliest crops here in the Great Lakes region, and when asparagus arrives, we can be sure that it really is, truly is, spring. April’s fits and starts, clotty snows and mucky mud, can deter the belief that winter is over. But asparagus? Well, asparagus does not lie.

| June 10, 2011


  • Image courtesy Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, © 2011.

Reprinted with permission from The Feast Nearby: Essays & Recipes by Robin Mather, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. The following excerpt can be found on Pages 30 to 33. 

• Recipe: Pickled Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon and Garlic 

With such delight do we Michiganders greet the first asparagus of the season! It is among the earliest crops here in the Great Lakes region, and when asparagus arrives, we can be sure that it really is, truly is, spring. April’s fits and starts, clotty snows and mucky mud, can deter the belief that winter is over. But asparagus? Well, asparagus does not lie.

Old-time Michigan rural folks called asparagus “speary-grass,” a nickname that makes sense when you consider its growth habits. (In the same way, they called sumac, the shrubby nonpoisonous kind, “shoe-mac,” which also makes sense: its tannin-rich red berries can be used in leather tanning and dyeing.)



The grassy herbaciousness of asparagus was surely welcome after a long winter of mostly preserved vegetables, a kind of spring tonic that provided much-needed nutrients. Asparagus is high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamins A, B6, C, and thiamine. So perhaps that instinctive yearning for the fresh, tender spears is based on intuitive body knowledge.

My father was a true asparagus aficionado, although we didn’t eat it often when I was growing up. When I was about ten years old, my father used asparagus as part of an object lesson in reading a person’s character. He told the story of how, when he was a student at Lake Forest College outside Chicago and living in a fraternity house, fresh asparagus was on the menu one night. One of his fraternity brothers picked up the platter on the community table, smiled broadly, and said, “Oh, I love asparagus!” With that, he cut off all the tender tips and served them to himself, leaving only the decapitated stalks for the rest of the diners. “That guy,” my father said, still angry those many years later, “was a selfish prig. You can tell a lot about a person by the way he eats. He didn’t take a second to think about anyone else. Make sure you never do that.” At ten, I wasn’t clear about what, exactly, it was that I shouldn’t do: cut off all the tender asparagus tips or selfishly think only of myself. Later, of course, I figured it out. In my father’s name, I have never done the former, and work hard not to do the latter.



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