Local asparagus has arrived at the Oxford Farmers Market. The availability of local asparagus is the most significant signal of seasonal change in Oxford.
Never mind graduations, Mother’s Day, and the last frost. In Oxford, asparagus marks the beginning of a nonstop progression of local produce from now until winter.
Everyone knows that locally picked corn on the cob tastes better than the ancient stuff in the supermarkets. Buying local is even more important for asparagus.
Fresh-picked asparagus is sweet, tender, and low in acid. By the time asparagus grown in California or foreign countries gets into the Midwest industrial food system, it loses nearly all of its nutritional value, and its sweet flavor. That’s because asparagus has one of the highest respiration rates among all produce.
Because they are fresh, local asparagus don’t need to be trimmed like the industrial supermarket ones. An aged asparagus has a long stalk that is discarded as too tough to eat, whereas the stalk of a tender young local asparagus bends rather than breaks. The lack of waste also means that you actually get more for your money buying local asparagus.
Growing asparagus is an act of faith for our local growers. It takes 3 years before planted asparagus yields edible stalks, and for the first few years, harvests are minimal. That’s a long time for a local grower to wait for a sellable crop.
Asparagus comes in three colors — green, purple and white. Green and purple are both available in Oxford’s Farmers Market. White is popular in Europe but rarely grown in America, and I have not found it among our local growers.
Purple asparagus is genetically different than the green and white varieties. Stalks are purple on the outside, but the interior is the same as green ones.
Purple asparagus is less fibrous than a green one and therefore slightly more tender. And the purple one is sweeter because it has about 20 percent more sugar in its stalk than a green one.
A distinctive feature of local asparagus compared with the industrial version in the supermarket is the wide variety of size. My most recent batch of Farmers Market asparagus ranges from 5 inches to 10 inches in length and from 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch in diameter.
Because of the diversity, local asparagus needs to be triaged for cooking into small, medium, and large diameters. The medium-sized stalks are especially suitable for grilling or roasting.
Place the stalks on foil, sprinkle some olive oil, garlic, and herbs, wrap the foil around the stalks, and place the package on the grill or in the oven for around 10 minutes.
The large ones need to be chopped into bite-sized pieces. They are especially suitable for stir-fries.
The small ones can also be grilled or roasted, but for no more than 5 minutes. Or our tender tiny local asparagus can be eaten raw bathed in a marinade of oil and vinegar.
MOON Co-op is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. Visit it online at www.mooncoop.coop.
Read previous articles by this columnist at journal-news.com/oxford.