A Word On Food: Asparagus

Spring is in the air across the land. Even in Chicago .. the closest city to where I was born feels it. There are few things that push forth out of the life sustaining mud during this season … that send hunger pangs to my belly and flame to my imagination as powerfully as asparagus. 

William Shakespeare might not have foraged but the bard could lay bare the beauty of earth like few others. In ‘Pericles, Prince Of Tyre’, he wrote, “See … where she comes … appareled like Spring”.

Waverley Root writing in his monumental work, “Food” reveals that despite its ubiquity the origins of where asparagus came from remains a mystery. In America it predated the planter and president Thomas Jefferson’s garden. He did plant it. What didn’t he? But he was not the first on these shores. “The Emperor Augustus evidently knew how asparagus should be cooked to bring out the full flavor … briefly, so it remains a trifle crunchy under the teeth. He is credited with having invented the ancient Roman equivalent of our … ‘faster than you can say Jack Robinson” … Velocius quam asparagus coquantur … or … faster than you can cook asparagus. 

When I was about 21 … I came across a book that had been in print awhile and making its way around the … shall we say … herb loving community. It was titled, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and written by a man named Euell Gibbons. He deserves more general credit and awareness in these days that celebrate things like farmer’s markets, pickling parties and newly minted foragers. His book came out in 1962 so it was at least a decade old when I got a copy at the used book exchange at a college town I was crashing in at the time. Gibbons was simply an advocate of nutritious but neglected plants. He typically prepared these not in the wild, but in a well stocked kitchen with abundant use of spices, butter and other garnishes.


Now it’s time to hit the ‘Listen on WLRN’ button at the top to hear the remainder of my show. ‘A Word On Food’ airs on WLRN every Saturday around 8:30 a.m. at 91.3 and also 91.5 on the radio. I want to thank so many of you who tell me in person how much you are enjoying the show! Please check out my Instagram photos and my new IG TV cooking videos @normanvanaken 

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