The hallmark of spring in California is the arrival of the year's first asparagus. I love the early-season crop with its bright green, pencil-thin stalks that are tender tip-to-tip. Our CSA, Full Belly Farm, has already sent asparagus several times and I can never get enough. For a beautiful, willowy bunch, no price is too high -- which is good, because even at season's peak, it isn't cheap.
For the most part, I believe that asparagus is best served au naturel, simply steamed in the microwave and served with a little Earth Balance, salt, and pepper. If your asparagus stems are on the thick side, pare them down with a vegetable peeler to expose the tender flesh underneath. (This is also a good way to handle broccoli stalks that you might otherwise throw away.)
When I was growing up in Michigan, I don't recall ever having eaten asparagus. Though I knew what it was, my depression-era grandparents, with whom I lived, almost never purchased fresh food because they saw it as an unnecessary luxury. Really. To their way of thinking, asparagus would probably have been the ring leader of superfluous vegetables.
When I was in college, I might have bought asparagus, but I don't remember it being available. 'Turns out that while Michigan is the third-largest producing state, only 25 percent of the crop is sold fresh. Processors buy the rest.
California, on the other hand, is the nation's top asparagus grower and it's available for nine glorious months each year. Springtime, though, is definitely the best time for it.
Question: Which fruit or vegetable signifies the end of winter for you?