I harvested my first ever asparagus out of the garden this past week. It was worth the wait.
I’ve read that fresh asparagus tastes delicious, and it’s true. You can eat it raw – which I had never thought of trying with the shop bought asparagus. I didn’t realise that it can be sweet and juicy. Really delightful. Not only can you eat it raw, you will want to eat it raw. It’s beautiful. Did I say that already?
I’m growing three kinds: Mary Washington, Purple, and Fat Bastard (a hybrid). I planted them all last winter. Most of them were teeny tiny seedlings, with little asparagus spears as thick as a few hairs. The three Mary Washington were big crowns already, maybe two years old? Here’s a reminder of what they looked like when the spring after they went in:
I got them from Diggers (yes, I go there a lot). I planted them into a no-dig bed (layered compost, straw and manure) and I didn’t pick any shoots last spring. When winter arrived and they started dying back, I cut them more or less down to the ground, and when it got really cold, I dumped some compost on top of the crowns. Oh, they were also drip-irrigated over our long hot summer. I took Jackie French’s advice about them. Basically give them good soil and dump lots of organic matter on them over winter.
I have ten plants planted last year. About half of these are shooting and the other half are not, yet. You’re supposed to wait two years. I haven’t done that with my Purple and Fat Bastard asparagus but the spears are so fat already, I’m told I should harvest them. So, we shall see if I kill them or not…. The little tips started to appear on a few plants in early August. They didn’t do much until the last ten days, when they have started to shoot up quite quickly. I picked two small bunches last week and knew that when I got back after a weekend away I would have another small bunch today (about six spears, enough for my lunch). I have been cutting it very carefully at soil level with a small paring knife. You have to be really careful not to damage the tips of yet-to-emerge spears.
I have read to only harvest the spears that are as thick as your finger, which is fine, as so far most of them have been. However, there are some smaller ones on some of the plants, which I think are called sprue. Anyway, I’ve read to harvest those as well to encourage more spears to grow. So perhaps you harvest any and all, if your plant is old enough to be harvested at all. Once you’ve started harvesting, you harvest up until Christmas or early January and then you let the spears after that grow until they die back.
Asparagus in the Edible Garden
I give asparagus a huge thumbs up for the edible garden. Easy to grow, very fantastic fresh (and distinctly sweeter and juicier than shop-bought asparagus), and great value for money. Each plant cost me maybe $5? That’s $60 or $70 in total (one died and I replaced it). In the seven days since I first harvest some I have had about $6 worth of asparagus based on the cost of one bunch from my local fruit and vegie store. My plants will make their cost back for me pretty quickly at this rate. And they can apparently produce for up to 20 years. Asparagus, I love you. A lot.
I must say, I only ever pan fry my asparagus these days. My partner introduced me to this method – before that I didn’t eat much asparagus. But fried, it is very delicious. It caramelises and has that umami/savoury, meaty flavour. And it’s very quick.
Here are two methods, not complicated enough to be called a recipe, but both are delicious:
1. Asparagus with Haloumi and Cherry Tomatoes (a recipe my partner once made for me when we were first dating): Chop the asparagus into lengths, and pan fry over medium/low heat in some olive oil until lightly charred on all sides/to your liking. Once cooked make a vinaigrette with two parts olive oil to one part (good quality if you can) balsamic vinegar. Fry haloumi and some cherry tomatoes in pan to your liking, add to asparagus, pour over vinaigrette and add some basil leaves.
2. Asparagus with Lemon Butter and Mint (Jamie Oliver). Find the recipe here. I don’t have a photo of this, even though I just made it before writing, because I practically inhaled it. I had with a runny egg and some avocado on spread over garlic-y toast. It’s wondrous what a little buttery sauce tastes like when you don’t often cook that way. What I do have is a photo of the delightful bandit mint surviving the winter underneath some rampant Florence fennel:
I know people say not to let mint grow in the ground, but really, growing it in pots is hard work if you have hot summers.
Other things I plan to try include Jamie Oliver’s asparagus and potato tart (I found his kitchen gardening book Jamie at Home quite cheaply recently and quite love it. I’m late to the Jamie party). I’ll also try something I found in Annie Smithers’ book Annie’s Garden to Table (I have a thing for kitchen gardening books now…sigh. As if I needed another cookbook-type fixation) which is whole spears dipped in runny boiled egg and a herby toasted breadcrumb mixture.
If we keep getting this much up until Christmas, I’ll be trying quite a few more too. Any suggestions?