Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved to pick produce. My family still laughs about the time my grandfather tied apples to an out-of-season tree so I could go picking in the backyard; all smiles, I was too young to notice. So when Monroe Farms (my CSA) notified members that we could sign up to pick asparagus, I called immediately for a slot.
Asparagus picking is not like picking berries, cherries, apples or peaches. There are no leaves to speak of, no sturdy bushes or trees full of fruit to harvest. The field we were led to looked surprisingly empty, not to mention muddy, and I feared my kids would be disappointed over the seemingly slim pickings.
But I was wrong. What seemed to be occasional stalks sticking up in scraggly rows was really a cook’s dream. In less than 15 minutes we had walked the row, finding stalks that were thicker than a pencil and longer than our hand and snapping them off at the base. To our delight, we quickly filled a laundry basket with thin and thick spears. Per instructions, we even picked the uber-thick ones to clear the row; too fibrous to cook, my kids took them home and used them as swords and magic wands.
I’ve written about asparagus for 5280 before, so I knew that what we call asparagus is really the stem of a plant. If left unpicked it will “fern out,” developing branches and a canopy of leaves. This is why you should look for asparagus with tight tips; open or loose tips are a sign that this process is starting to take place, and that the base of the spears is turning woody and tough.
In the end, we harvested 11 pounds of organic asparagus, which I stored upright in jars with an inch of water, and also with the stems wrapped in wet tea towels in plastic bags. After putting it all away, I couldn’t resist calling Whole Foods to gauge what my fridge full of organic asparagus was worth. At $5.99 a pound, we had picked nearly $70 of this precious spring vegetable.
Over the next few days I will share several asparagus recipes, the first of which is Pasta with Asparagus-Lemon Sauce, which I’ve been making every spring since I discovered it nine years ago in Gourmet.