A guest post from award-winning poet, essayist, and radio presenter, Molly Fisk. Molly gardens in Nevada City, California. Her beguiling radio essays are broadcast on KVMR-FM and collected on two CDs, Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace and Blow-Drying a Chicken.
In spring a young man’s fancy turns to love, as the saying goes, but quite a few of the rest of us turn toward asparagus. Despite the evidence in your grocery store, it’s ripe only during a one-month window in spring. You’ll know that month has arrived when the price suddenly plummets.
Martha Stewart recommends snapping the ends off where they naturally snap, vowing that this is the tastiest part of the stalk. But she has 400 asparagus beds tended to I’m sure by Japanese master gardeners. The hoi polloi, which is another name for rabble, i.e. us, will often just cut off the last inch or so and not waste so much, figuring a little toughness is par for the course, in asparagus as in life.
I’ve done some longitudinal studies of asparagus-lifespan in my ice box. They generally last a week. Any longer and the stalks get floppy, the heads with their little cedar-shingle-like design begin to slime up. Martha Stewart, however, and Alice Waters and others in the know insist we eat asparagus as soon as it’s picked, and this time, I agree with them. Again, it’s hard on the hoi polloi to search out the nearest asparagus farm and buy directly. For some reason, we’re usually at work. But you can make a phone call to discover when your grocery gets its delivery, arrange to shop that day and eat the little darlings that night, and you’re getting closer — if you live in an asparagus-producing state, those stalks were probably picked no more than two days before.
The novelist Barbara Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating what they could grow themselves or what was made nearby. Her entertaining account is called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Luckily she’d put in asparagus beds three years before, so they were producing — you don’t get any in the first couple of seasons. She said about eating in season that you start out delighted at your first taste, enjoy it for a week or two, and then start to wish you could eat something else. But you can’t. The beans and tomatoes are nowhere near ripe — you’re stuck with asparagus. Then suddenly it’s gone, you’ve eaten your last bite until next April, unless you’re going to buy those expensive ones from Chile that were bred for long distance travel, not flavor, and ruin your carbon footprint.
The big trend in gardening this spring is growing vegetables. We saw the White House lawn torn up for the purpose — backyards across the country are being roto-tilled as we speak. Nurseries are selling out of starts (the seedlings some people plant instead of actual seeds) — it’s a phenomenon, an intersection of the natural foods movement and the recession. This year I’m splitting my loyalties between an organic farm I support and a young friend just starting up on an acre she’s rented.
Don’t I sound knowledgeable about all this? In fact, I was raised a city girl in San Francisco — somewhere in the back of my brain I still don’t believe plants really come from seeds. But everyone says they do.