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HOW TO CREATE FRESH SPRING FLAVORS

FAMILY FEATURES – When it comes to healthy eating, looking for nutrient-rich foods to include in your diet is one of the more important goals. However, when warmer weather is in full swing, it may be tricky to incorporate nourishing foods that are versatile enough for grilling season. 

For a keto- and paleo-friendly option ideal for grilling, consider using asparagus to please your crowd. With its peak season typically running through May and June, this vegetable can provide a much-needed flare to your seasonal feasts and be eaten warm or cold in appetizers, salads, side dishes and more. 

Keep in mind this multiuse food aligns with a variety of cooking methods, according to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board: saute 3 minutes, grill 5 minutes, steam 5 minutes or roast 15 minutes.  

In addition to quick and easy preparation, asparagus also allows for loads of wholesome health benefits with its low-calorie qualities and sources of fiber, folate and vitamins. To get the most nutritional value out of your asparagus, consider buying the veggie when it’s in-season from your local area instead of purchasing imported asparagus. Grown by over 100 family farmers in the United States, Michigan asparagus can be used in a tasty, savory dish like Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus for a fresh family meal. 

For more asparagus-inspired recipes and information, visit michiganasparagus.org.

 

GRILLED BACON-WRAPPED ASPARAGUS (Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 8 minutes Servings: 6-8)

• 1 pound Michigan Asparagus

• olive oil

• 1 package uncooked bacon, thin sliced

• balsamic glaze (optional)

• salt, to taste

• pepper, to taste

Wash asparagus and trim ends. Place asparagus on tray and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Wrap 2-3 spears with one slice bacon. Repeat with remaining asparagus and bacon. Heat grill to medium heat and clean grates. Place asparagus bundles on grill and cook 3-4 minutes per side, or until bacon is crispy. During last minute of grilling, brush asparagus bunches with balsamic glaze, if desired. Avoid adding glaze too soon or it may burn. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

 

10 SURPRISING FACTS ABOUT ASPARAGUS

1. It takes three years from seed to harvest – Once they get going, asparagus plants can be cropped each spring for 15 years or more, but the spears start out the diameter of pencil lead in year one. The mini-spears eventually grow into a ferny, waist-high canopy which feeds the underground rhizomes with energy synthesized from the sun. The plants gain strength in year two and by the following spring, some of the spears are reaching the full diameter of a pencil, signaling they’re ready to harvest.

2. Everyone makes “asparagus pee,” but not everyone can smell it – Scientific study has confirmed why some individuals don’t notice the uniquely pungent urine experienced by others after eating asparagus: The sulfurous compounds in asparagus pee are highly correlated with a condition called “specific anosmia,” the genetic inability to smell certain odors. In an infamous blind smell test, 328 individuals were subjected to the odor of a man’s urine after he had eaten asparagus. The majority of those who had experienced asparagus pee themselves were able to correctly identify the substance, while those that claimed their urine did not smell strangely after consuming asparagus were not.

3. Chickens can help farm asparagus – Rick and Marilyn Stanley of Chick Farm in Wells, Maine have conducted experiments on the subject and heartily recommend the practice. In their 2010 study, weed growth was reduced up to 90 percent after releasing their chickens in an asparagus field to forage – with no adverse effects to the crop. The Stanleys recommend a flock of about a dozen hens per 1000 square feet of asparagus.

4. China outdoes the world in asparagus production, by far – Though productivity has slowed in recent years, at last count there were still 57,000 hectares of asparagus in China. The next closest competitors? Peru has 27,000 hectares in production, while Germany is close behind with 22,000. The United States ranks fifth with about 14,400 hectares, virtually all of which is in California, Washington and Michigan.

5. Oceana County, Michigan is the self-proclaimed asparagus capital of the world – The county produces two-thirds of the state’s spears and hosts the National Asparagus Festival in June each year to celebrate the harvest. Unfortunately, America’s War on Drugs has caused a decline in the local industry. The United States pays Peruvian farmers to grow asparagus instead of coca, depressing the global price of asparagus and making it an unprofitable proposition for American farmers.

6. White asparagus is not genetically induced in any way – Instead, the lack of pigment in albino spears results from the absence of sunlight. Farmers pile soil over the emerging spears and cut them off from below to produce the ghostly novelty. Purple asparagus, on the other hand, is a genetic variety. But don’t get too excited – it reverts to green when cooked.

7. White asparagus is one of the most labor-intensive vegetables to grow – Every spear is hand-picked just as the tip begins to show through the surface of the soil. Farm workers carefully excavate around each spear to a depth of nine inches and clip it at the base. It must be placed immediately in a dark box so it stays white. Interestingly, white asparagus turns pink when exposed to sunlight, though there is currently no market for this color of asparagus.

8. Sea salt was the asparagus farmer’s original herbicide – Originating in the sandy, sometimes salty, soils of the Mediterranean basin, asparagus tolerates salinity better than the majority of common weeds. Modern farmers often rely on chemical herbicides to manage weed growth, the most labor-intensive aspect of asparagus production, but rock salt was the old-fashioned alternative. This doesn’t come highly recommended, however – asparagus may tolerate salt, but adjacent plants won’t. The salt also forms a hydrophobic crust on the soil, leaving the asparagus asking for water.

9. Asparagus plants exhibit sexual differentiation – Seed-grown asparagus results in a 50/50 mix of male and female plants. The flowers look slightly different between the two and the female plants produce a red berry, a diversion of energy from vegetative growth that makes them less productive per acre. For this reason, the main commercial asparagus varieties are genetic male clones.

10. Love of asparagus inspired an ancient Latin saying – The emperor Caesar Augustus would bark “Velocius quam asparagi conquantur!” or “Faster than cooking asparagus,” which can be loosely translated as, “Get going already!” Augustus was such a connoisseur of the elegant vegetable, he organized elite military units to procure it for him. The famed Asparagus Fleets made rounds in the empire to import the best varietals back to Rome, while the fastest runners were employed to carry fresh spears high in the Alps, where it could be frozen for later use.

Ellis County Press

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