a member of the Lily family. Its green stems function as leaves, and the true leaves are reduced to scales. Commercial plantings take two or more years to become established and require much hand labor in all phases. Asparagus is harvested when the spears emerge in the springtime. Individual spears are harvested when they are approximately nine inches long with compact, tight heads and good green color.
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What It Is
The name asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning “sprout” or “shoot.” Widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots, asparagus cultivation began more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean. Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its unique flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter.
Wild asparagus grows in such diverse places as England, central Wisconsin, Russia, and Poland. Asparagus is depicted in ancient Egyptian writings. Asparagus has also been grown in Syria and Spain since ancient times. In the 16th Century, asparagus gained popularity in France and England. From there, the early colonists brought it to America. Asparagus is often called the “Food of Kings.” King Louis XIV of France was so fond of this delicacy that he ordered special greenhouses built so he could enjoy asparagus all year-round!
Asparagus is very versatile. In China, asparagus spears are candied and served as special treats. It is widely popular today as a scrumptious, fresh, and healthy vegetable. People throughout Europe, Asia, and North America use fresh asparagus in their favorite cuisine.
Asparagus is planted in the ground three years before it can be harvested for the full season. Farmers only harvest for a short period of time the first few years to allow for further growth. Commercial plantings generally lasts eight to twelve years, depending on various factors.
Because of the nature of asparagus, the crop is very labor intensive. Spears are hand-harvested every day or every other day depending on the weather by an experienced asparagus worker. The workers hand select all spears that have 9" or more of green color on the spear, leaving the rest to be cut the next day when they are ready for harvest. Asparagus will grow 7" in a day when the temperatures reach 90 degrees!
Sense the large effort of hand tending, checking, picking and processing.
Honor the animals that die in the raising of this food: Common Asparagus Beetle, Spotted Asparagus Beetle, Beet Armyworm, Western Yellowstriped Armyworm, Variegated Cutworm, Darksided Cutworm, European Asparagus Aphid, Garden Symphylan, Bean Thrips, Onion Thrips
Taste the energy of last-year’s sun trapped by the plant, stored for a year and then released as you eat it.
Realize that you’re eating a stem of the plant that has the function of the leaf: full of both chlorophyll and energy factories.
Honor this plant’s 2000-year history.
When You Eat...
After cutting the asparagus is carried from field the fields to nearby sheds where it is graded and packed in specially-designed crates or cartons for safe arrival to markets around the world. A moist, absorbent fiber pad is placed at the bottom of the crate to prevent drying during transit. Space is left at the top to allow for elongation of spears that continue to grow! The boxed asparagus is rapidly cooled to a temperature of 34 to 37 degrees Fahrenheit, usually by hydrocooling, and is held at that temperature throughout transport
California produces approximately 70 - 80% of the domestic fresh supply in the United States with principal states of Washington and Michigan providing the balance.California produces nearly 94 million pounds of asparagus annually. Over 33 thousand acres of land are used for asparagus production.