Come spring, and for as long as it’s available, asparagus holds a place of honor in our house. We are especially fond of very thin stalks, tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted at about 425 degrees until golden and slightly crispy at the tips. Cooked this way, asparagus never lasts more than a few minutes on our dining table and no matter how much I make, there is always at least one child looking mournfully at the empty platter. But… until this weekend, we had never seen asparagus growing, and it is as lovely to look at as it is to eat.
We made a whirlwind trip to Vermont and were lucky enough to see an old family friend, Beth, who has an asparagus forest. All it took was one look, and I decided that I absolutely have to try planting some asparagus next year, even if we will not be able to sample any of it for a while as it gets established.
Normally, the tender shoots that people eat are snapped or cut off just above ground level. But left to their own devices, the shoots grow tall and get woodier, the buds on the tips of the asparagus open and produce a wispy mass of branches and berries that turn bright red when ripe (though note that the berries should not be eaten). The little berries set against feathery foliage look ethereally festive, and when I saw the asparagus plants after a rainy afternoon, they were glistening.