Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Asparagus in January

Those of us of a certain age will remember the time known as before GM. No, not General Motors, before global markets. Those were the days when asparagus in January was unheard of.

Asparagus was considered the crown jewel of vegetables, made all the more precious by the fact that it was only available for a short time every spring. My stepfather had battled cancer and in a spurt of hopefulness he planted an asparagus bed and patiently waited for it to mature. We waited several years and thereafter enjoyed a bountiful harvest, devouring huge platters dressed in melted butter or lightly drizzed with Hollandaise sauce.

One January we planned to attend a progressive dinner sponsored by our church and by the luck of the draw it was determined we would be the guests of hostess Julia Gray. The farmer was duly impressed by my social climbing skills and I conveniently forgot to tell him that it was simply a matter of chance in this case.

Julia called her guests to make sure we knew the way to her home.

"I'm in the big Victorian house, across from the regular home."

There was no need for this information, everyone knew where Julia lived. We all salivated as we drove past. There were banks of lilacs that bloomed in the spring and infused the air with their fragrance. And her gardens were legendary. Few had gained entrance into her home as guests though. We'd slow down in the evenings and peer into her windows as we drove past, getting glimpses of candy pink in the living room and emerald green dining room walls.

The evening came and we were ushered into a large foyer, actually more of a room in it's own right, papered with the most perfect wallpaper ever. I can't tell you exactly what it looked like but it was perfect. The living room walls were indeed painted a bold candy pink and her antiques and floor to ceiling lace panels made everything look like a photo shoot. The emerald green dining room was hung with beautiful artwork and an antique chandelier lit the room, illuminating beautiful linens and the family silver.

Julia served the meal which included a large platter of asparagus accompanied by a dish filled with Hollandaise sauce. My eyes must have grown as big as saucers and I asked her, "Where did you ever find asparagus in January?".

"The Blue Goose food store has found a supplier in South America," she answered.

"Oh, how wonderful!" I exclaimed, knowing full well the Blue Goose food store would charge dearly for this precious commodity.

Julia had earned her reputation as a stellar hostess and I had enjoyed asparagus in January. But something gnawed at me, what would happen if asparagus were available every day of the year? It wouldn't be special anymore and the wonderful anticipation of the annual harvest would be diminished. The king of vegetables would be relegated to the everyday. Sad.

Fast forward to a day in the local supermarket. I stood before a huge display of asparagus, standing straight as soldiers with their feet implanted in a man-made lake of chilled water. "ASPARAGUS!!!!" proclaimed the hand-lettered sign. "Fresh asparagus!"

I stood there for a few moments looking at the spears. I sensed someone else was standing beside me and I turned to the woman and said, "Where in the world do you think asparagus would be in season this time of year?"

"Perhaps Chile," she answered.

The teenage produce clerk was standing nearby and overheard our conversation. His eyes lit up and he transformed into that kid in the back of the class who finally knew the answer to something. Excitedly he rushed in our direction.

"No ma'am," he said. "Those come from the warehouse!"



Bax said...

What a marvelous tale! I love asparagus and lived my early life during a time when my father would go out on a trek to find wild asparagus growing in a secret place...three towns over! It was delicious! Alas, I too have fallen victim to the times. I just prepared fresh asparagus two nights ago...in February! Thanks for sharing this!


Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Have you tried the white asparagus? I haven't, but a friend keeps suggesting that I do.

Would you believe that I used to have an asparagus bed that I destroyed by cutting the feathery tops off after it had gone by! I thought those feathery tops looked beautiful in my flower arrangements. My poor grandfather's face when he realized what I had done. I'll never be able to remember it without blushing.

Abbie said...

Ha! I just love this story..it is the way of the world isn't it? (i have asparagus in my fridge right now..)
:) Abbie

Crossed said...

Might I suggest the book:
"Animal, Vegtable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. She has several references to asparagus in the book.

KatKit13 said...

I saw the asparagus on Saturday at I suspect, the same brand of store... and I bought 2lbs. It's wonderful.

Hey, Vee, I don't care for the white asparagus. Just not the same flavor.

Sabina said...

I love reading your blog!! You really have a way with words and stories!!

Suzanne said...

Bax - I've seen photos of the wild asparagus. It looks skinnier. Does it taste the same?

Vee, I haven't tried the white variety. I wonder what makes it white. Hmmmmm....

Abbie - how do you fix it? Steamed, grilled?? Sauce or not?

Crossed - I'm intrigued about using an inanimate object as a theme in a book. I've got a Kingsolver book in the bookcase, but I'm not much of a reader of fiction. I'm going to try though.

KatKit - 2 lbs. sounds like alot, but now when you're eating asparagus. I'll even eat the soggy canned stuff.

Sabina - Thanks so much for the compliment. I love to write and I know that my high school English teacher Miss Johnson is cheering from heaven! She'd say, "See I told you that someday you'd use the skills you learned my class!"

KatKit13 said...

I made said Asparagus tonight.

Tossed them in a bag (after I snapped off the ends) and drizzled some olive oil in the bag, shook in some lemon pepper and let it sit for a bit.

Tossed on the cast iron grill pan until tender-crisp and bright green. Mmmmm Good stuff!!