I want to be stalked.
It might sound like a strange request, but after I tell you about the gifts that I received last week, you will better understand this desire.
There was a time when the tooth fairy was a favorite sprite that magically provided welcome presents. Last week, I was surprised by not only one, but two fairies — asparagus fairies — that came bearing stringy, dirt-covered offerings.
Asparagus roots, also called crowns, were the tokens of affection that I received. I guess that Kate Middleton was right when she said she “wasn’t the only one in line to receive a crown last week.”
Stalks are what I hope will emerge from the soil after planting them. For years, I have been hesitant to sow asparagus, knowing that these plants take up to three years before they provide harvestable vegetables. This year, though, I am happy to report that I have dug in and established roots.
Grow, baby, grow is my call to action. While it is not recommended to harvest asparagus stalks in their first year, established plants like the ones that I received can grow 10 inches in just 24 hours under optimal conditions. Each precious crown can send up spears for six to seven weeks if the weather cooperates and can yield up to half a pound!
If you don’t have your own plants, no need to worry; a few Island farms grow exceptional asparagus. Eat as much as possible this spring, for taste, health and even as a scientific “scent-sory” experiment.
From early days, asparagus has been known as a “Food of Kings.” King Louis XIV of France enjoyed asparagus so thoroughly that he had a special greenhouse built so it could be grown yearround. Even earlier were the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians who ate asparagus both fresh and fried. The oldest surviving cookbook, De re Coquinaria, written during the third century AD, has recipes for this beloved vegetable.
There is no reason to deny yourself when it comes to asparagus. This veggie packs only four calories per spear, has no fat or cholesterol, and is low in sodium. To benefit your health, asparagus is high in folic acid, vitamins B6, A and C, and thiamin. It is no wonder that second century physician Galen called asparagus “cleansing and healing,” and ancient Greeks believed it could cure toothaches and prevent bee stings.
Of course, I would be remiss if an article about asparagus didn’t mention the unique digestive response it causes. In Treatise of All Sorts of Foods, written in 1702, Louis Lemery was not delicate in his description, “[Asparagus] cause a filthy and disagreeable smell in the urine, as every Body knows.” Marcel Proust had a little more tact, noting that asparagus “transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.”
For once and for all, let’s sniff out the truth and the science of the odiferous result of asparagus consumption. While some people say that no scent results from their own personal consumption, research has shown that they may be wrong: It is not a lack of odor, but rather a lack of ability to smell the aroma that plagues them. The scent comes as a result of the way the human body metabolizes sulfur-containing compounds, which happens quickly: it takes a mere 15 minutes after ingestion to produce that distinct smell.
Strange as the aroma is, it is not disturbing enough to provide a reason to give up a favorite. As the weather warms, the spears will begin to emerge, and I hope that the stalking will continue as long as possible. There’s no restraining odor that could keep me away from these delicious gifts of nature, and of friends.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.