A few things to know about asparagus now that it’s in season. Buy organic, fresh, California grown asparagus for the most nutritious and best tasting.
Asparagus is dioecious, meaning that it has separate male and female plants. The female plants make berries, containing seeds. The male plants just make flowers, containing pollen. But both of them produce spears.
Scott Walker, president of the world’s biggest asparagus seed company (Walker Brothers, of Pittsgrove, N.J.), says that he’s heard that on really hot days, asparagus can grow an inch per hour. But he’s never actually measured them. During harvest season, farmers struggle to stay ahead of the growing spears. Each field has to be harvested every day, and sometimes even twice a day.
After about six or eight weeks, farmers stop harvesting and let them grow wild. The plant needs to grow into a fern to capture energy from the sun and store it in the root for the next growing season.
After harvest, asparagus loses quality very rapidly––the sugar content declines and the amount of fibrous material increases. Use spears with compact heads; those with loose heads are fibrous and do not keep well.
There are 3 types of asparagus, green, white (which is blanched by covering the stalks with straw or mulch to keep it from turning green) and there is a purple variety.
Green asparagus is a bit grassy in flavor, while white asparagus is mild and slightly bitter. Purple asparagus is a bit nuttier and sweeter because it has about 20 percent more sugar in its stalks. Purple asparagus is a bit nuttier and sweeter because it has about 20 percent more sugar in its stalks. While the stalks are purple on the outside, the interior is the same green spear. The outside may appear a little purple-greenish when cooked. Blanch this and use it in salads.
How to buy asparagus; look for bright, green, evenly colored spears with tight buds. You can store asparagus standing up in a glass with a little water in the refrigerator, I like to use them within a few days. If the stalks are a little thick you might want to peel them down up a bit so they’re not so fibrous.
Cook asparagus by blanching, steaming, roasting or grilling. Here are a few of my favorite ways to serve asparagus.
Read all about artichokes, how to choose and store them.