An ancient vegetable, many poets have sung its praises and artists have painted it. Called the “King of Vegetables,” asparagus is a beautifully designed vegetable from a gardener’s and a farmer’s point of view. Asparagus is literally the growing shoot of a perennial plant raised in furrowed fields. Commercial plantings take two or more years to become established and require much hand labor in all phases.
Asparagus is harvested when the spears emerge in the springtime. Individual spears are harvested when they are approximately nine inches long with compact, tight heads and good green color. Each day, workers walk the furrows selecting choice spears and cutting them individually by hand. Over 65% of the asparagus grown commercially in the U.S. is grown right here in the Sacramento River Delta! While the harvest season lasts only a short time in this northern production area, California’s wide range of micro-climates allows for asparagus from February through May.
Varieties White asparagus is grown covered in mounds of sandy soil so that it never sees the light of day until the moment it is cut. Green asparagus grows freely in flat beds, and, exposed to the sunlight, develops the chlorophyll that turns it green. There are also varieties that are naturally purple or pink but are green inside.
Nutrition Asparagus is packed with nutrients and easy to make ahead for a crowd. One serving of asparagus is low in calories and sodium. It is a fairly significant source of vitamin C, thiamin, and potassium, and many micro-nutrients.
Selection Select bright green asparagus (or purple) with closed, compact, firm tips. If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in cold water. The fat spears are just as tender as the thin ones. Tenderness relates to color—the greener the better (for white asparagus, the whiter the better.)
Storage: Keep fresh asparagus moist until you intend to use it. Make sure you use your asparagus within 3 to 4 days, a week at the most. To freeze, trim off woody ends and freeze whole or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes. Cool, place in freezer bag, and store in freezer. Do not defrost before cooking. Make sure you use asparagus within 8 months.