The season for asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), one of the first vegetables harvested in spring, is tantalizingly short. All too soon, the sweet, melt-in-your-mouth spears have vanished. Yet unlike other vegetables, they miraculously reappear next spring.
Knowing that asparagus is a true perennial is the key to growing it: commercial growers usually count on 15 to 20 years of harvest; many home growers keep theirs going 40 years or more. That means you have to be especially picky about where you plant it: seldom would you put it in the middle of the vegetable patch. Its deep root system would be a major obstacle when you till the soil in spring. If you grow only a few plants – and two or three are probably sufficient for a family – it’s best to grow asparagus at the edge of the vegetable patch, or in a perennial border. The long, branching green stems and delicate, cut-leaf foliage form a tall (to 150 centimetres), attractive plant that adds height and volume at the back of the border.
If you want dozens of plants, prepare a special bed just for them – or let them share one with that other perennial vegetable, rhubarb. The bed can be any size or shape you want, as long as there’s ample room for plants.
Did you know?
Freshly picked asparagus is high in fibre and contains beta carotene, vitamin C and the mineral selenium. Winter asparagus is less nutritious – by the time it’s arrived in Canada from the south it’s lost two-thirds of its vitamin content.
The truth about white asparagus
Europeans have customarily grown white asparagus, maintaining its tastier and more tender than the green. The plants are the same, but the spears of white asparagus are blanched, or kept from light while growing. This is done by mounding up soil over the plants in the spring or covering the plants with an opaque cloche, called an asparagus jar. Mounds and jars are removed after harvesting. Asparagus plants will die if permanently deprived of light. Want to grow your own white asparagus? It’s easy to blanch it in your home garden by mounding the emerging stalks with soil and keeping them covered till harvest time.
How to store asparagus
Asparagus is best eaten fresh but can be stored for a few week in the refrigerator. Plunge the base of newly harvested spears into three to five centimetres of cold water, drain and store upright, wrapped in plastic, in the coldest part of your fridge. You can also store them unwrapped, in a few centimetres of water in the fridge. Blanch and freeze the surplus.
Make sure to snap off the fibrous base of the asparagus before serving. To snap, simply bend the spear until it breaks. It will separate naturally just where the edible part begins.
When cooking asparagus, choose spears of uniform thickness. Thin ones – which you often get at the end of a crop – are good in soups. More substantial dishes such as risottos or pasta (like Logan Petit Lot’s vegan creamy asparagus pasta) can accommodate thicker spears, but they should be cut into short lengths to fit a fork.
Yes, you can use your fingers to eat asparagus – just make sure you use your left hand.