I noticed the thick bunches of asparagus at a grocery store and the sight of the green stalks carried me right back to my childhood. In the early summer, with paper bags in hand, my dad and I hunted for asparagus near our home. We walked about one-half mile to an asparagus patch in a ditch along a seldom-travelled gravel road.
I’m not sure how the asparagus landed in that area, but someone must have planted it at some point. Asparagus is not harvested until at least three years after it is planted and it is productive for about 15 years. The asparagus patch in my hometown had been there quite awhile.
When I spotted the green spears among the green blades of grass, I harvested them and added them to my paper bag. We did not pick the super-skinny stalks because, in the case of asparagus, the larger stems are more tender than the tiny stems.
My dad and I had a little contest going during these hunts: Who could find the most asparagus? Being young and closer to the ground, I was pretty quick at nabbing these members of the lily family, which also includes onions and garlic. Actually, I think he let me win.
Once in a while, we missed spotting the asparagus stalks and discovered they had grown feathery ferns that later produced red berries. At the fern stage, the asparagus was no longer food for our dinner table. This was a disappointment but a natural progression of the plant. The asparagus was storing up its own nutrients for next season, so we left it alone.
We “bagged” quite a few asparagus in those days long ago. Then someone else discovered our asparagus hunting ground. I remember when we first found tiny green stumps where the stems had been. Someone was poaching “our” veggies. We had our suspicions but never saw anyone else picking asparagus, so we altered our hunting time.
I wonder if the other asparagus hunter was scouting the spot with binoculars fixed on the patch. Eventually the asparagus patch stopped producing and we needed to buy it at the grocery store. But the experience wasn’t the same.
If you happen to like asparagus, pat yourself on the back. One cup of asparagus has about 25 calories and three grams of dietary fibre. Fibre is necessary to maintain the healthy functioning of our digestive system. Asparagus provides potassium, which is necessary for muscle contraction, including our all-important heart muscle. Vitamins C, K, A and thiamin also are found in asparagus.
Asparagus is especially rich in folate. This B vitamin is known to help prevent birth defects, including spina bifida where the baby’s spine may not be fully closed at birth. Spina bifida potentially is linked to paralysis. Throughout life, folate plays a role in maintaining the health of the cells in our body.
As part of an overall healthful diet, asparagus and other healthful foods may reduce our risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Despite its nutritional benefits, asparagus does have an interesting “side-effect” that may show up as soon as 15 minutes after eating. Asparagus naturally contains sulphur-containing amino acids, and people who enjoy asparagus will excrete the natural sulphurous chemicals in their urine.
However, not everyone can smell this natural chemical with a scent similar to cooking cabbage. An estimated 25 to 50 per cent of people can detect the smell. You can try this experiment in the privacy of your own home.
Asparagus is in season in the spring in grocery stores, so it is at its best quality and price. After purchase, try to use it within about three days for best quality. The ends may dry out, so dampen a paper towel and wrap it around the bottom of the stalk.
Asparagus can be prepared in a variety of ways, including steaming, microwaving, stir-frying and grilling. If you have extra, you can blanch it in boiling water for a couple of minutes, cool it under cold water, drain it and package it in freezer containers or freezer bags.
As my older daughter and I rinsed the asparagus that triggered my trip down memory lane, I looked forward to the tasty meal the big bunch of asparagus would provide and the memories it will make for my family.
- 1 lb. fresh asparagus
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 tbsp. olive oil, canola oil or other oil
- Salt (to taste)
Note: when grilling vegetables, consider using a grill pan available in many stores where grilling supplies are sold.
Prepare the grill. Rinse the asparagus stalks under running water. Drain well and place in a pan. Mix the oil and garlic and drizzle the mixture over the asparagus. Grill for about five minutes and turn regularly with tongs. Grill until tender but not mushy. The natural sugars will caramelize and produce a delicious flavour during the grilling process.
Makes four servings. Each serving has 80 calories, 7 grams (g) of fat, 5 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of protein and 3 g of fibre. Without added salt, the recipe has no sodium.