Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Pursuit of Asparagus

The rain is falling as I write. It is heartbreakingly beautiful, every shade of green you can imagine. And while we love the wet, we sympathize with our neighbors that border the flooding Snake River. 

Wild asparagus season is here and it’s every man for himself! If there is solace to living in the sandhills, it is firm ground in the rainy season – and asparagus. Everywhere pickers scour the roadsides, but I am immune to their depredations, for I have my own treasure trove of the vegetable, the North Forty. 

Just to the north of us, separated by a neighboring farm, lies forty acres of not much. Not much, that is, to the casual observer. It’s just a humble patch of dry sandhills along a paved road. It harbors willows, elms, weedy patches, and the occasional duck nest along the canal that splits the property. It's home for the laid-off bulls in the fall and shelters some cow/calf pairs in the spring. But it is beautiful in detail, especially the spears of asparagus that pop up when the cows leave (for cows enjoy them too). And so I visit every third or fourth day for a couple of weeks, serious in my task to keep the plants from going to seed and ceasing production. And while I narrow my gaze in the hunt, so I develop a relationship with this ground.  

Dwarfing the younger trees is a grand old cottonwood. A few limbs show life, but mostly it is dead and white like bones. One spring my friend John and I were feeding cows and saw a troop of vultures, wings spread, sunning themselves on the branches. Nearby are a few hardy apple trees, vestiges of a long forgotten homestead. Today they're in full bloom and full of bees, the blossoms milky white and veined with pink. Who planted these trees and tasted this same fragrance? Who dug this poor ditch, long abandoned?

We don’t know that answer, but we do know that great grandpa traded a fine team of horses for the North Forty three generations ago. It was a grazing retreat for a few milk cows, and Eldro, Mark’s granddad, told us how he would fetch the cows back and forth each day for milking. The land would bring a fine sum if subdivided today, but it won’t happen if I have any say in the matter. I like it the way it is.

I’ve tried many different ways to prepare asparagus. We like them stir fried over rice, in breakfast omelets, sautéed with garlic, and they’re pretty darn good eaten raw. But my favorite remains simply to boil lightly, add butter and salt and pepper, and enjoy.  A banquet graced by God and fit for a king. 

 my quarry

the grand-pappy of them all

the North Forty

an old-timer in bloom

And from my respite from the rain album for today:

at our front entry-way

my all-time favorite - quakies

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