I’m in Love with Asparagus.

By Joe Hyer

When I was young, Mom said to try everything once.  She was of course speaking of vegetables.  And for more than 40 years, I occasionally ate asparagus, but never really enjoyed it.  I am learning now that it wasn’t the asparagus, it was the over-cooking, wilting, and seasoning.  Like many things, if you prepare it correctly, it is divine.

I did have a run in with Asparagus politics a decade ago.  Doc Hastings, former Congressional Representative from central Washington, was vehemently opposed to subsidies of all shapes and kinds.  I could not figure out why he would support asparagus, but no other farm subsidies.  He was quite the budget hawk, back when there were budget hawks.  Turns out, Washington actually produces a lot of asparagus, primarily in the district Hastings represented.  And tens of millions of dollars, annually, were flowing to Washington farmers to subsidize the crop.

Why are we subsidizing asparagus in the first place?  You have to trace that back to 1990, and the Andean Trade Preferences Act (who doesn’t remember ATPA?).  If we get the South American nations in the Andes to grow it instead of making Cocaine, we will end the Drug War.  Makes you just want to pat it on the head and say, ‘Oh 1990s thinking, you are so naïve.’  So with a guaranteed market in the US – they grew asparagus in the Andes.  And because we subsidized it – they undercut US producers. By 2010, Peruvian imports exceeded the whole US crop.  And by the mid-1990s, we’d had to add asparagus to our farm subsidies program.  Of note- when calculating the total cost of the ‘War on Drugs’ – they do not add in the value of farm subsidies required by it.

I’ve now learned I need to check where my asparagus comes from before buying it.  But on now to my new found love of this vegetable.  I am on a quest to balance my dinner plate – the doctor says at least half green, so we must forage on to new vegetables.  So I tried asparagus again, but under my most recent philosophy of cooking – casual neglect.

I learned to cook the perfect steak, hamburger and many other foods this way in the past couple of years.  It’s really simple – put it in to cook and leave it alone.  Flip or stir only when absolutely necessary, and let it do its thing.   And at least at first- as little seasoning as possible.

I tried this with asparagus.  Lop the stumps, lay them in a single layer on a sheet pan with a mesh wire grid to allow heat on all sides.  Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, rotating once.  Wow.  Each stalk is full of both moisture and flavor, as long as you don’t overcook and turn them limp.  The taste more than anything, is that of Fresh.  Somewhere between green beans and spinach.

Half my plate was asparagus.  When cooked naturally, and with a bit of casual neglect, it tastes so good I can even eat half my plate of green.  So I say to you, whether you want to support the Drug War by buying Peruvian, or support farm subsidies by buying local, asparagus for a greener plate for all.

Want to learn more about asparagus, Washington’s self-proclaimed King of Vegetables?  Well, lucky for you there’s the Washington Asparagus Commission at www.waasparagus.com Of note, the Commission was formed in 1991 by a majority vote of the growers themselves.  It’s funded by a 1% assessment on gross receipts at the first point of sale (about $165,000 annually), and is overseen by an elected board of growers and processors.  And they have recipes!

Only in it’s third year, you can also attend the Washington Asparagus Festival on May 12, 2018 in Pasco.  For details, go to the website and click on Marketing & Promotions.