In Vineyard Haven there is a spot where asparagus grows year after year in the unlikeliest of places: the beach. The vegetable apparently draws plenty of food from the Lagoon, and so comes back reliably and bountifully each spring. A Canada goose is known to guard the now wild plot and, according to others, is quite vigilant. On my recent harvesting trips, the sentinel was not at his post, so while the goose was away, with the asparagus I could play.

Some years back, Caitlin Jones had a few quasi-domesticated geese at Mermaid Farm on Middle Road, but she had to get rid of them after one too many attacks at her farm stand. Which leads to an important business lesson one must keep in mind: attack geese deter customers. One day, those birds had disappeared. I don’t know their fate, I never asked, but I don’t miss them and have to say I hope they ended up on someone’s dinner table as their steady diet of stinging nettles seemed nutritious.

Asparagus is a heavy eater and needs a lot of nourishment. — Albert O. Fischer

Geese are mean, except when they’re not.

My father found two goose eggs in a nest early one spring almost 20 years ago. Confident that he could best his father’s failed attempts to hatch chicken eggs by burying them, my dad incubated the goose eggs under a heat lamp in the bathtub. Two geese hatched, Honker and Daisy, that’s what my sisters named them, and these live “rubber geesies” became the girls’ favorite and most delicately treated and best protected (we had a dog) toys in the bath and beyond. Molly and Lydia and their pets Honker and Daisy spent the summer together and, it seemed to me, they formed a true kinship. Then one fall day Honker and Daisy left. They’d decided to migrate; we never saw them again.

I can’t say for certain that Honker and Daisy ate asparagus, but they lived with us during a time when my father had a big healthy patch. It seems likely, maybe inevitable, that those young geese enjoyed the fruits of his labors (he probably wouldn’t have minded, my dad is always generous with his friends and his children’s friends, regardless of genus and species). My father learned to grow from his father, Poppy, and though dad doesn’t have any asparagus growing in his garden these days, Poppy’s plot on Beetlebung is going strong.

As vegetables go, asparagus is a heavy eater and needs lots of nourishment (I think that’s what explains the plot on the Lagoon). We do our best to take care of Poppy’s crowns as he would have, with a mixture of horse and rabbit manure, plus a healthy mulching of eel grass from Menemsha Pond each year. At this point, late in the spring, the crop is adolescent, one-part kid/two parts fully grown, with some plants now sporting brilliant ferns while others still boast stout spears that you can measure in hours, it seems they are growing so fast.

A little known culinary treasure (really only available to those with their own patch or access to a friend’s) is the harvest of the tiny spears that form on the stalks in the “teenage” asparagus, plants that have not yet fully committed to becoming a male or female fern (you can tell the difference in mature plants because the berries of the female plants ripen to red). In this in-between time, the stalks get leggy and the spearheads (asparagus tips) send out spindly shoots, more or less parallel to the ground. These shoots — I’ll call them needle asparagus — are delicious. They are excellent raw in a salad, or roasted a minute on their own, or mixed in with heartier pencil asparagus or even with thicker spears, as long as you take care to cook each only just as much as it needs. A harvest from a couple of plants is a great start to a wonderful meal.

Fresh asparagus goes with everything. — Albert O. Fischer

At this time of year, I like to serve cold-water sweet lobster over a little salad of asparagus and mint. I poach the lobster in butter — which is a great technique to know about because it is delicious, impressive and cooked ahead of time, but for a few last minutes at the stove. I lighten the pan sauce that I create in the poaching process with lemon. I set the lobster over raw needle asparagus if I have them, or thin shavings of thicker spears if I don’t, mixed with mint. I then spoon the butter sauce over it all. This dish is warm and rich and it seems to me simple and right for the particular hunger I feel at this beautiful, changeable time of year when we are all doing too much, keeping at it as long as the sun lasts.

As I’ve been working these lingering days I’ve been thinking of my sisters, when they were young and didn’t know the difference between wild and tamed, and about my father and how he has always loved pulling anything from the sea. I’ve also been thinking about Poppy. My grandfather spent his life loving organized plots. He filled several with the asparagus I am eating, happy every day he planted so much because the girl he met at a dance, married, and loved, was very, very fond of it. She still is.


Recipe for Butter-poached Lobster.

Serves 4

Lobsters have feathery appendages called swimmerets (or pleopods) underneath their tail. Swimmerets can clue you into the sex of a lobster — a good thing if you like to add a little roe to your poaching liquid. If the swimmerets closest to the head are soft, you have a female.

2 1 1/4-pound lobsters, females if available
Kosher salt
1 stick of butter, cut into pieces
Juice of 2 lemons

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and organize an ice bath. Separate the tails and claws from the bodies. Retrieve the roe (if there is any) from the bodies of the females by pulling out the dark green sack. Blanch the tails and claws each for three minutes, then transfer them to the ice bath to stop the cooking. When the lobster is cool, remove the meat from the shells and place them in a covered container. Put the roe sacks in a separate container and refrigerate it along with the lobster meat until you are ready to use. (This can, and should be done ahead.)

Shortly before you plan to serve, squeeze the roe from the sacks into a small bowl. Remove the vein that runs down the back of the tails; cut the tails in half lengthwise. Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to hold all the lobster in a single snug layer, stirring frequently, over very low heat. Stir the lemon juice into the butter and add a tablespoon of water — this helps to keep the butter from breaking. Season both the lobster meat and the butter sauce lightly with salt. Stir the roe into the sauce then add the lobster and warm over low heat, basting the meat with the sauce, cooking until the lobster is heated through and the roe turns red. Serve the lobster with the sauce over a salad of asparagus or blanched spring vegetables, or with pasta, or simply on toasted country bread.

Chris Fischer’s Beetlebung Farm Cookbook won a 2015 James Beard award for American Cooking. He lives in Chilmark. Catherine Young collaborates on recipes.