Asparagus is an anomaly of a vegetable, the lone lily that we consume regularly as food. It's an organism at once solitary and communal; each slender, singular stalk shoots up individually from a shared crown beneath the surface of the soil. The flavor is unique, tasting like nothing else; brassica, for instance, have a kind of commonality in their flavor, that reminds us that kale and broccoli, though distinct, are close relatives, but asparagus is a flavor like no other. It shifts, depending on if it is eaten raw or cooked, but it tastes always only of itself; of spring, of a brief window in time, of a tender, tightly furled green promise. As a perennial garden plant, it is particular, requiring deep, rich soil, regular weeding, and three to five years of growth before the first harvest is available. It asks us to practice restraint, as we must curtail our harvesting to only several weeks out of each year so that the delicious young spears can mature into ferny, inedible greenery that supply the crowns with energy over the summer months. Asparagus needs regular weeding and ample fertilizing, and every few years the beds must be renewed, as the crowns can become weak or crowded if left to grow unchecked for too long. In the early spring, before the spears begin to push, an old asparagus bed can be revived by digging up the established crowns and replanting the year-old crowns at regular spacing, adding compost to the soil at the same time. Disrupting the root systems and opening up the space between crowns invigorates the crowns, spurring them to push out new growth. Aside from these particular constraints and management techniques, asparagus can be a simple and rewarding crop to grow once it has established. The season can be stretched by planting some crowns deeper than others; as the soil warms in the spring, the more deeply planted crowns send up their shoots later, staggering the harvest. We perform this on a larger scale, too, as statewide, growers in southern California have earlier spring sunshine than their northern counterparts.
This is the season of asparagus on the central coast, when the spears are rising from the ground after their winter hiatus. In years past, this used to be the only time asparagus was available, but increased domestic and international production has lengthened the season of availability. However, because asparagus is such a perishable crop, it does not ship as well as other crops, especially in the heat of summer, and out of season asparagus can be woody, limp, or otherwise unappetizing, not to mention expensive! Whether you grow your own or purchase it from California growers, this is the perfect time of year to indulge in your favorite asparagus recipes.
The aioli that we make in this week's featured recipe is glorious with grilled asparagus, but it's also a perfect foil to potatoes, roasted, boiled, fried, or en-saladed. (It's OK to make up words here and there, I think.) Being that this is also the season of increased egg production, it's a lovely, worthwhile recipe to have in the arsenal, a savory, garlicky topping that can enhance many a farm fresh vegetable or protein. And if this makes you crave luscious potatoes as well, we still have an excellent selection of seed potatoes down at the feed and farm that will keep you fed and happy for months to come.
We shot many of the photographs, and created the recipes and text for most of these recipes several years ago. We have done so many things over the years, that it can tend to blur together; whose recipe was this, whose text, whose hands are featured? In looking back over the photos and recipe for this feature, I was sure that the first few photos were of my own hands, before realizing that the featured hands and recipe belonged, in fact, to Karla. (We also have similar aprons and clothing, so it wasn't too far of a stretch...) Somehow this also reminds me, tangentially, of asparagus itself, of the hidden community of labor and effort and inspiration that comes together to create what appears here on the screen. So many hands and hearts touch this work, and we hope that it touches you, dear reader, in some meaningful way as well. Sometimes these connections happen out of sight, like roots beneath the soil, that find a common source of sustenance. Sometimes they pop up unexpectedly, when someone stops us in a grocery store or on the street, to say that they have been enjoying these offerings, or the recent selections at the store. However these connections come to light, we feel ourselves to be a part of a larger network of community, and we are grateful for the ways that we all support and sustain each other, through patronage and offerings, through attention and shared exploration. As always, we want to be responsive to our community; if there is anything you would like to see us address, in the garden or the farm or the store or the kitchen or the world, we welcome your feedback.
Happy Spring, friends! Enjoy this asparagus, enjoy this aioli, enjoy the sun and the wildflowers and the garden and the days. We are happy to be here with you.
By Jessica Tunis