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California Asparagus Is Here!

California asparagus is here at Earl’s! We have been eagerly awaiting the beautiful bunches of green stalks with purple tinged tips. Whether you grill, steam, stir fry or gently peel for a spring salad, asparagus is delicious.

CVP Asparagus

Our California asparagus comes from Coastal View Produce a 3rd generation Violini family farm located in Gonzales, CA in the heart of the Salinas Valley, who has been growing high-quality organic asparagus for over 30 years.  Brian Violini’s Grandfather was a Swiss immigrant who started a new life in the fertile Salinas Valley.  “I can remember being 10 years old and pulling weeds and moving sprinklers for my grandfather,” says Brian Violini, who now runs Coastal View Produce with his brother. “We’ve had this farm for three generations. My grandfather started with a dairy and then moved into farming. My dad and my uncle ran the farm after him, and now it’s me and my brother. Farming, it’s all we know.”

California produces over 70 percent of the nation’s fresh market asparagus with over 20,000 acres, followed by Michigan and Washington. The height of the season in California runs from March to June.  California asparagus is mainly grown at the confluence of California’s two greatest rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, in the rich peat of the delta lands an hour south of Sacramento. Salinas Valley, the Central Coast, Coachella-Imperial Valley area and Santa Barbara County are also considered prime growing areas. Asparagus was originally planted in the delta region in 1852 but the interest in growing asparagus commercially wasn’t until the early 1900’s.

Asparagus is a perennial crop producing year after year. The crowns are planted in long beds deep in the ground.  New hybrid varieties can produce for a few weeks after a year in the ground and older varieties may take up to 3 years to produce. Once the plant is established it can produce for 10 years or longer. The stalks only turn green when they are exposed to the sun and develop chlorophyll.  White asparagus is covered with mounds of sand so they are never exposed to the sun and is said to have a milder flavor than green asparagus.  As the weather warms, a single asparagus spear can grow anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in a single day.

The field workers tediously cut asparagus spears by hand with a special razor sharp curved knife, laying them at the end of the rows to be picked up later.  Once the asparagus are done being harvested for the season they go to fern, the tips turn feathery, which allows the plants to transfer carbohydrates and energy to the roots by photosynthesis and to store nutrients in the crowns.

The size of the spears comes from the age of the plant. The youngest plants produce the skinny stalks and the thicker spears from older plants are sweeter and juicier because they contain higher levels of carbohydrates. Look for bright solid spears with no blemishes, firm tightly closed tips and avoid wilted looking stalks. Choose bunches with freshly cut ends and take a quick sniff, asparagus should have a fresh grassy smell with no odor of rot.

Try to eat them as soon as you buy them but they can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.  Place them upright in the refrigerator in a dish of water or wrap a damp paper towel around the base and secure with a rubber band before storing in a plastic bag in your vegetable bin.

When you’re ready to eat them, snap or cut off the woody white portion at the bottom end of the asparagus. They’re perfect coated with olive oil and roasted, which leaves them firmer, nuttier and sweeter than steaming.  Asparagus is high vitamin C and K and folic acid and contain less than 50 calories per 6 oz serving.  Click here for recipes.

If you have ever had strange side effects, from eating asparagus it is because of the high levels of asparagusic acid, volatile organic compounds, including forms of sulfur, which are metabolized and then passed very quickly, in as little as 15 minutes, into the urine.  Retrieved from Field Guide to California Agriculture by Paul F. Starrs and Peter Goin.

Also check out California’s largest asparagus festival in Stockton on April 26th-28th

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