My friend, Mr. Asparagus Spear

It’s asparagus season again, time to dust off one asparagus anecdote, one story, and one great tip.

Most of the people I know love fresh asparagus. It’s considered one of the gourmet vegetables, right up there with hearts of palm and artichoke hearts. Even now that it’s become fairly commonplace, the thought of the tender green shoots still provokes “ooooohs” from diners.

Back in the 1980’s, our friends Pat and Larry bought a farm in central Ohio. Their acreage included woods and fields, room for their dogs and cats to roam, space for an enormous barn and a pond. It also had a patch of robust and hearty asparagus, something their city-dwelling friends could only dream of.

Pat and Larry both had a wicked sense of humor and loved to tease people. When the asparagus came up in conversation, they would admit neither of them liked it. They might even go so far as to make retching noises to prove the point. And then, the wide-eyed listener, thinking of asparagus as something akin to green gold, would ask, hopefully, “What do you do with it?” “It makes great mulch,” they’d answer, just to see the shocked and dismayed reaction. In truth, Pat would puree it in soup, or else give it to friends.

Barry and I are not asparagus-averse. We are definitely in the “green gold” category, and we both remember the time we hit the asparagus “mother lode.”

It was a long-distance bicycle trip across Michigan in early June. We happened one weekend upon the town of Shelby, where an asparagus festival was in progress. Everything in Shelby was tall and green, even the Asparagus Queen.

We wandered through town, looking at the asparagus displays, asparagus crafts, and booths selling pickled asparagus. It wasn’t crowded, and our loaded bikes drew as much attention as any of the displays.

We were still fairly new to bicycle touring, and riding many miles each day meant we were always hungry. So we finally got tired of being gawked at and stepped into a dimly-lit pub and restaurant with a special menu for the festival. When the waitress came to take our order, we went all out: Beer-battered asparagus, asparagus-cheese soup, and asparagus lasagna. The waitress was shaking her head as she went to the kitchen. Thank goodness they didn’t have asparagus ice cream, or we would have ordered that, too.

Instead, we picked up a couple more pounds of asparagus from a farmer’s stand and steamed it later, for dinner. We peed green for days…

As we headed north out of Shelby, we rode through vast fields of asparagus. It was being harvested by farm workers, who sat in rows on a low trailer towed behind a tractor. It was kind of kinky: They literally picked the asparagus right between their legs.

Which brings to mind the following asparagus tip from our funniest friend, Minnesota Charles Mickelson.

If you’re at a dinner party that’s become dull, and the conversation lags, don’t despair. Just pick up the asparagus spear lying on your plate, no, not with your fork! Use your fingers. Now, this is the important part. Pretend that you are not holding a drooping, flaccid spear of asparagus, and proceed to tell an unrelated funny story. Be sure not to look at your asparagus spear, just hold it vertically in your fingertips. Every once in a while, punctuate your speech with a lively wave of the green wand.

Everyone will be watching the asparagus spear, practically holding their breath. They’ll be wondering, what are you doing with that asparagus spear? Are you going to eat it? What does it have to do with the story?

Eventually, someone will get the giggles, which are contagious. You can enhance the spread of laughter by pointing the asparagus at the giggling party and asking why they are giggling. Presto! You will have converted a dull dinner party into a lively, memorable event. All thanks to your friend, Mr. Asparagus Spear.

The Foodie’s favorite asparagus recipes:

Roasted asparagus: Toss asparagus on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil. Roast at 400 F for 10 minutes.
Chicken and asparagus in red sauce
Parmesan-crusted asparagus
Rhubarb and asparagus with mushrooms
Wilted asparagus and apple salad
Warm asparagus and apple salad with rhubarb and hazelnuts
New! Quick marinated asparagus and red peppers