Right now is the time to enjoy fresh, local asparagus. Local farmers generally harvest asparagus shoots only between March and June, which makes them a delicacy. This short season also means that growing asparagus requires a great deal of patience. Asparagus grown from seed isn’t harvested for the first two springs in order to establish strong roots, so most farmers and gardeners order “crowns” or year-old roots, which can be lightly harvested one year after planting. A well-cared-for asparagus plant can produce for up to 20 years.
Asparagus has been cultivated for thousands of years in Europe and in many countries, the asparagus season is still a reason for celebration. Purple asparagus originated in Italy and is becoming more common in the US. White asparagus is actually just green asparagus grown underground. Farmers pile on soil as the asparagus grows and without sunshine, the shoots stay white. Here in the United States, most asparagus found in the grocery store comes from Peru, Mexico and China. California, Michigan and Washington produce most of the domestic crop.
Asparagus is low in calories and high in vitamin B6, A, C, E and K. It provides a variety of minerals and is a good source of fiber. Young shoots are the best for eating; they are tender and flavorful. Shoots start to lose flavor after a few days and become woody and dense. Asparagus can be prepared in a variety of ways: steamed, blanched, roasted, sautéed etc. One simple way to prepare the shoots is drizzled with olive oil, lemon and salt, then baked in the oven until tender. Asparagus makes a great addition to salads as well.