Monday, April 25, 2011

Asparagus: White Gold

Food lore has always been one of the most fascinating and versatile elements of folk lore. How to prepare, tend, hunt and harvest this basic source of sustenance of life (besides water) has long been the focus of community and individual care and concern. Intricately woven together with the mysteries of life, such as birth and death, food customs and traditions have held societies together. Consider for example the Sikh dietary practice of not eating meat, the Catholic custom of not eating meat on Friday or the Jewish tradition of keeping kosher. These are only a few examples of ways in which societies have identified themselves through their food ways.

As societies have expanded their reach from one continent to another they have either brought with them important foods to grow in their new locations, like corn kernels or they have modified and/or given new meaning and purpose to the foods they have come upon, like asparagus.

This spring vegetable has found its ways into meals around the globe. A flowering perennial plan, it was once thought to be part of the lily family. Also considered to have been related to onions and garlic it is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and Western Asia.

Asparagus has been used from early times as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavor and diuretic properties. In fact, a recipe for cooking asparagus can be found in the oldest surviving book of recipes, De re coquinaria. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter. Asparagus is pictured on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC.

Around the world, asparagus shoots are prepared and served in many ways. Often as an appetizer or vegetable side dish. In Asian-style cooking, asparagus is often stir-fried. It can be quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers and is also used as an ingredient in some stews and soups. In the French style, it is often boiled or steamed and served with hollandaise sauce or melted butter.

Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water. In recent years, almost as a cycle dating back to early culinary habits, asparagus has regained its popularity eaten raw as a component of a salad.

Did you know this about asparagus?

· The Romans prized asparagus. In the first century, runners took asparagus from the Tiber River valley to the Alps so that it could be frozen and thus preserved for the Feast of Epicurus.

· King Louis XIV had asparagus grown in his greenhouses so that he could enjoy it year round.

· In continental northern Europe where asparagus has a short growing season, local white asparagus is in such high demand, it’s been nicknamed "white gold".

· European colonists brought it to America where Native Americans used it for medicine.

Here are few asparagus recipes:

-- Asparagus Quiche

-- Asian Beef Wrapped Asparagus

-- Asparagus Potato Salad

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