There’s hardly a vegetable that my family loves more than asparagus, even if it does spike your pee with its concentrated aroma. Local asparagus is an especially rare delicacy here in late spring; you blink and then it’s gone. My love for asparagus has only grown since I tried to stop eating it – or at least buying it – outside of its local season. But it’s more of a challenge to find in Maine than when I lived in the Pacific Northwest, since California and Washington are top-producing states. Marada Cook of the Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative shares my frustration – she has trouble sourcing enough to meet her statewide local food distribution business’ demand.

Living in Oregon, I was canning pickled local asparagus until 1 a.m. on June 19, 2011, determined to get it done before my baby arrived. I went into labor 30 minutes later, and Theo was born at 9:32 a.m., so I labeled the canned asparagus – the last time I pickled asparagus, with fresh tarragon, dill, cayenne and garlic – “Theo’s Pics.” So asparagus figures centrally in Theo’s life, though he doesn’t yet have much of a taste for it.

I’m planting my own crowns this spring, but that involves more effort than I’d hoped (stay tuned for Tom Atwell’s May 4 Maine Gardener column). I’m also on the lookout for more local sources, such as the pretty spears Swango Farm in Woolwich sold at Rosemont Market last season. I’ll check out their farm stand near me in Bath this season, too.

But I didn’t find enough local asparagus here last spring to warrant making pickles. Instead, I made pickled fiddlehead ferns, which seem a lot more plentiful in Maine. What I did buy I roasted (my favorite, easy method of asparagus cooking) and then wrapped in prosciutto stuffed with goat cheese and dried (or fresh) figs, an appetizer I brought to a friend’s baby shower.

We also love baking homemade pizzas topped with thin asparagus tossed in olive oil, inspired by recipes from Deena Prichep, my food writer friend in the other Portland.

With the meatiest, freshest specimens, sometimes the simplest, al dente preparation is best: quickly blanched then sautéed in butter, and served with a squeeze of lemon, chopped herbs and ground pepper. Asparagus also lends itself to Asian flavors: tempura-fried in a sushi roll or par-boiled and then tossed in a sweet soy sauce and sesame oil dressing. You can also throw asparagus on the grill.


I wish I’d made fiber-rich asparagus purees for Theo when he was a babe. Starting at about 8 months old, infants can enjoy the spears steamed or cooked in chicken stock, then pureed and strained to remove any strings. Asparagus spears (even raw) make a fun finger food. Mixing asparagus into comforting creamy soups, cheesy pastas and risottos (made with stock made from the snapped-off tough ends) is a good place to start. Add cut-up asparagus spears to your pasta water near the end of cooking or toss into any stir-fry.

Kids may also warm up to asparagus in scrambled eggs, a frittata or even a savory bread pudding, such as the recipe Barbara Kingsolver and family share in their excellent “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” memoir of eating locally for one year. That book first got me interested in growing asparagus, as Kingsolver said the crowns – an act of faith that you wait three years to harvest from – were the crop she always planted first upon establishing a new garden, even if she might move before the asparagus matured. The Kingsolver bread pudding also pairs asparagus with wild morel mushrooms, another spring treasure here in Maine.

In the other Portland, cookbook author Ivy Manning includes a recipe for Warm Asparagus with Morels and Poached Duck Egg in her “The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally,” a revelation to me when published in 2008, just as my husband Dan and I relocated to Oregon.


Several Maine farmers say they don’t bother with fickle asparagus. Maybe they keep a small patch for their families, but not enough to warrant bringing to market. I’ve heard it’s the old-time farmers with more established patches who do that. Apparently, asparagus requires a lot of preparation upon planting and frequent maintenance that first year to make sure the new patch isn’t overtaken by weeds.

“Asparagus is quite a lot of work to plant, but after that it’s just weeding,” says Julia Simpson, whose Wheaten terrier puppy forages for sweet, raw asparagus from a neglected patch on her Glacier Farm in Dresden. “It’s worth making the investment.”


Last spring, I coveted the feathery forest of asparagus fronds in front of a handsome red house here on Maine Street in Brunswick. I, too, wanted a front-yard asparagus patch – perennial ferns that could double as ornamentals and, more importantly, edibles.

But now I know I’ve got my work cut out for me. It’s not as simple as just throwing the high-yield, all-male Jersey Supreme crowns I ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion in the ground (females waste energy producing those red seed berries). I made that mistake planting asparagus for the first time in Oregon. I still managed to have one crown that produced about a dozen spears total – which only whetted my appetite for more. What if I took more care this year?

Tina Fisher-Dark, who also gardens in Dresden, cautioned me to not even think about asparagus without adequate preparation. “They’re amazing, though: they do struggle to survive,” says Fisher-Dark, the mother of my friend Rebecca Goldfine, describing the weeds that grew up around her asparagus patch’s side-rows. “It pays to pay attention. I’m pretty ashamed of it. I often go down there if there’s some asparagus peeking out (among the weeds), and I pick it out and eat it.” So Fisher-Dark enjoys secret garden snacks but not enough for a meal.

Even if we don’t get a real crop, I still think it’ll be worth teaching Theo the delayed gratification that comes if and when these tasty members of the lily family magically emerge in late spring, seemingly overnight.

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