Driving north on Ashue Road in the Lower Valley, Aileen, Shelley and I are eager for the telltale signs of a field in harvest. While farmland everywhere is definitely showing the increased activity of spring, and for the most part crops are just beginning their grow for the year, there is one that is always itching to break through into the sunlight before all others: asparagus!
We finally spot the tell: bright yellow collection bins scattered throughout a field. We gasp excitedly, “this is it!” Driving extra slow, our eyes adjust to the subtlety. Purple green spears inches from the ground rise from the earth in rows. We have arrived. It is a quintessential spring day, which seems perfect for this quintessential spring crop: bright blue sky, not too hot, light breeze and asparagus in every direction.
Manuel Imperial is kind enough to join us on this day for a look around in his Jersey Supreme field, and admits he loves asparagus. He reaches down, breaks a spear out of the ground and takes a bite. What? Now I’ll eat asparagus just about any way it can be cooked, but straight up like that? He breaks a few more spears out for us—who knew?
So crisp and juicy with flavor resembling that of a pea pod, it’s delightful. After years of living in the valley, we’re thrilled to gain this new knowledge in the field. Manuel tells us that when fresh, the water content of asparagus is so high it changes the flavor a bit from what we’re used to. The longer it sits, the more dehydrated it becomes, concentrating the flavor more. He cracks a stalk open to show the moisture. The break glistens in the sunshine.
Asparagus harvest lasts 60 to 75 days. Looking around us we can see the different levels of growth. Some just popping their stiff purple heads through the dirt, some tall and thick and ready for picking. They grow quickly and steadily in their season, as much a several inches a day, if conditions allow.
Manuel explains that wind is the primary cause for malformations in the shape, usually resulting in curvature of the stalk. These are increasingly being sold in the emerging number two markets—where the flawed yet delicious are finding a fast niche in the marketplace.
The spears being cut today are going all over the United States and Canada. The Yakima Valley, once again, showing off its prowess at dinner tables throughout the country. Manuel generously gives us an armload of spears to take home. Not being ones to wait when it comes to good food, we cook it up immediately for a very asparagus luncheon.
We all fell in love with the fresh raw, so we keep a few nice and easy like that with some cream cheese covered in Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce as dip. Next we do a simple 10 minute roast in the oven with olive oil and sea salt at 450°F, and lastly, being that I just happen to have some decent prosciutto in the refrigerator, we do a wrap and roast. I don’t think that any of us had ever had so much asparagus in one sitting before, but each bite was intensely flavorful and fulfilling. To go from the ground to our bellies within an hour was something special. Yet another great reason we are fortunate to live right here in the Yakima Valley.