When people are asked about their favorite spring vegetable, asparagus often jumps right to the top of the list. Fresh, crisp, and a bit earthy, this herbaceous perennial is beloved the world over. It’s delicious on its own as an appetizer or side dish, mixed into pastas or salads, thrown on the grill, pickled or sautéed, or dipped in a nice garlic aioli. There are myriad ways to prepare and enjoy the scrumptious spring spear. We like it alongside prosciutto with a little grated hard-boiled egg on top and some pickled onion for an easy, fresh, and simple dinner at home.
Asparagus has been known as an edible vegetable since ancient times, its likeness seen as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating from 3000 BC. It was also eaten in ancient Syria and Spain, and the Greeks and Romans ate it when fresh in the springtime, drying it for winter. A recipe for cooking asparagus can be found in the oldest known “cookbook”, De re coqinaria, which dates from the third century A.D..
Lauded for its delicate flavor and diuretic properties during these ancient times, asparagus was also thought to have some medicinal benefits by the ancient Greeks. However its popularity died out during medieval times and it was scarcely seen in the culinary records throughout that era. It reappeared in the historical records around the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was seen cultivated in French Monasteries, and when it finally made an appearance in England. Asparagus traveled to the New World around 1850 and quickly grew in popularity, becoming widely cultivated in the US and in California, lucky for us!
As many Sacramentans know, asparagus grows extremely well in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region, so much so that our neighbor Stockton holds a famous Asparagus Festival every year. Living in the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America has its perks, and just one of them is looking forward to asparagus season each year, when we get the best-of-the-best asparagus, locally grown, at our farmers markets and at our neighborhood grocers throughout the springtime growing season.