May 15, 2009

Today we’ll enjoy fresh green asparagus for lunch. It’s asparagus time in Europe. Most good restaurants have a special asparagus menu during the season- creamed asparagus soup, asparagus with smoked ham and cantaloupe.  This vegetable specialty can make for an expensive dining experience!

A large sign directs potential customers to the Enderli farm for fresh asparagus. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

A large sign directs potential customers to the Enderli farm for fresh asparagus. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The Alsace, France produces mostly white asparagus. These are grown under the soil, in ridges to prevent sunlight from reaching the spear. Flying over the area 10 days ago, we saw the fields covered in white plastic. They are cut every day, with special knives. Many feel white asparagus is the queen of vegetables.

Switzerland produces both white and green asparagus. Asparagus are green when grown above ground, the sunlight producing chlorophyll which makes them slightly more nutritious. They are also less fibrous, and need less peeling. Personally, we feel they have more flavour and prefer them to the white varieties.

The Enderli's acre of asparagus is in full production. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The Enderli's acre of asparagus is in full production. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The ones we’re having for lunch came from a local farm. The Enderli family, who operates a typical mixed farm in Hallau, Kanton Schaffhausen, grows .40 hectares (one acre) of green asparagus. A big sign along the road ‘Frischer Spargel’ points to the farmyard. If no one is around, ring the bell in the open garage and someone will come running.

In weather like this – warm and moist – the asparagus are cut every morning and evening. We know we’re getting fresh ones! The Enderlis harvest between 18 and 30 kilos per day. The season will last until mid June – about six weeks.

Asparagus tips are sold for 20 Swiss Francs per Kilo, SFr.14/kilo for Grade A asparagus (the big fat ones) and SFr.10/kilo for second Grade (the thinner ones). The Swiss Franc is just slightly above the Canadian Dollar.

This asparagus field is in its fourth year of cultivation. Asparagus is a perennial plant, and picking starts in the third year, meaning this is the second harvest for the Enderlis.

I bought a kilo of Spanish asparagus at the local Coop for SFr.9/kilo, but there is no comparison to the taste of the ones I buy from the Enderlis. It’s worth it to pay more for local and fresh!

The Enderlis sell asparagus directly from the farm, out of their garage. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The Enderlis sell asparagus directly from the farm, out of their garage. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

This delicatessen plant doesn’t just grow in exotic countries like Spain and Switzerland, or California. My mother grew her first asparagus in the mid seventies, in Cecil Lake, northern British Columbia. She still has a good harvest from that patch every spring.

Asparagus grows just as well in my garden in Westlock, north of Edmonton Alberta. It’s easy to grow, the first vegetable in spring along with rhubarb and spinach. Serve with smoked ham, slices of cantaloupe and fresh baked bread and you’ve got the finest menu out of France!

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