Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
Food & Nutrition
What a difference one year makes when it comes to spring and locally grown foods. Last year many of our vegetables were early, the fruit trees blossomed early and then were frozen, and we all know what that did to our local fruit trees. Last week I wrote about dandelions and I know from the calls and emails that many of you share in enjoying this fine culinary green.
I know local vegetables all depend on warm weather, but I do remember some years that we had asparagus from my parents’ garden for Easter (yes, those years Easter was late). Well, I know recently I saw asparagus in the grocery store and the price was very low.
As soon as the soil gets warm, asparagus and rhubarb will grow. The weather continues to be very difficult when it comes to growing food. The weather as I write this is more like March, and now we have more moisture than we need.
Spring to many of you means it is time to eat fresh asparagus, red and green sticks more commonly called rhubarb, and if it rains and gets warmer, maybe some wild mushrooms too. Rhubarb is used in making pie, crisp and sauces, and many of you remember having a stick of rhubarb and a container of sugar and you dipped the rhubarb in the sugar and then took a bite. It sure was sour, but you keep on eating it!
A food experience I want you to try is asparagus fresh and raw — yes, raw in salads and in vegetable baskets with dip. The way most of you eat asparagus is cooked — lightly steamed and served with a variety of seasoning or sauces. You really need to try it raw. Trim the ends, trim or remove the scales, rinse and enjoy. It really has a great, fresh flavor raw. Plan to add it to your veggie baskets with broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery and other vegetables.
Fresh asparagus supplies fiber and carbohydrates, which are needed for good health, and is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Fresh asparagus adds color and variety to many dishes, and is really good in stir-fried vegetables. For some people asparagus also works as a natural diuretic, and if that is what it does to you I suggest you don’t eat it in the evening.
The asparagus plant is a member of the lily family and what we eat is the edible part that is a slender to medium shoot, which ranges from pencil thin to really thick. The asparagus that most of you enjoy is green. The white asparagus is harvested when the tip just breaks the ground and then straw is used to cover the spears. The lack of exposure to the sun keeps the spear pale, but for me something is just not right about white/cream-colored asparagus.
When you are selecting asparagus look for a fresh appearance; closed, compact tips; and smooth round spears. A rich green color should cover most of the spear. The stalks should be tender almost as far down as the green extends. Don’t select spears with tips that are open and spread out, moldy or decayed, or ribbed spears, which are spears with up-and down-ridges. Those are all signs of staleness and mean tough asparagus and poor flavor.
Refrigerated asparagus keeps at its best up to one week. When it comes to storage, wrap the cut ends in damp paper towels or cloth, cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate; or refrigerate spears upright, with stem ends in water.
When you are preparing asparagus try your hand at breaking the spears where they snap easily. The main part of the spear and tip is tender and only requires rinsing with water. Asparagus can be steamed whole or cut in 1- or 2-inch pieces. What is most important is that when we have fresh locally grown asparagus is that we enjoy it!
Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email email@example.com.