story by Lynn Ogryzlo & photos by Jon Ogryzlo
I bend down, snap a spear off at the base, and pop the tip into my mouth. I know what to expect. I’ve done this before. A freshly picked, juicy, asparagus spear explodes in my mouth with the clean flavour of sweet sugar peas and cold, pure, spring water. Its exciting crunch is full of life, as it’s the season’s first rousing flavour after a long, sleepy winter.
Most of Ontario asparagus is grown around the neighbouring town of Simcoe, in Norfolk County, with some asparagus patches spilling into Halton. The best part of asparagus season is that you can find it almost everywhere, even in large grocery stores. Local food rocks!
When I’m not eating asparagus raw and straight from the field, I like it lightly steamed and served with a tart vinaigrette or mild aioli set on the side for dipping. To make the presentation a bit more interesting, I wrap half a dozen spears in a white linen napkin and garnish the bundle with a sprig of fresh herbs. On other occasions, I’ll choose to band the spears with chives. I do so by soaking the chives in water, wrapping a bundle of asparagus with the wet chives, and serving the dipping sauce next to the bundle on the plate. It’s beautiful, delicious and nutritious.
According to the Ontario Asparagus Board, Ontario asparagus has the highest level of naturally occurring Rutin (an effective anti-oxidant), putting Ontario asparagus in league with other functional foods such as blueberries and tomatoes.
Typically, asparagus is priced according to its weight, unless you’re shopping at Marshall’s Real Farmers Market in Milton. Marissa Marshall sells asparagus in bundles of 14 spears or the “farmers dozen”. “It works out to approximately a pound,” says Marissa who’s hoping she’ll have asparagus by the end of April or early May.
If you don’t need the entire bundle of asparagus, cook it all anyway; leftovers mean more delicious asparagus dishes, such as frittata, can be made the next day. Frittatas are a simple mixture of your favourite ingredients, like cooked asparagus, blended together with whipped eggs. The mixture is cooked on the stove and finished off in the oven where it puffs up nicely.
Asparagus tarts make for another quintessential spring delicacy. They’re usually thin with an egg and cheese base and whole asparagus spears displayed beautifully. If you’re sharing a patio supper with friends on a cool spring evening, there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of asparagus soup. The more asparagus you use, the less cream you’ll need, and the lighter the soup will be. Swirl a dollop of crème fraiche on top with a drizzle of icewine vinegar. It’s amazing!
My list of bright, light, and yummy asparagus dishes is endless; however, one of spring’s greatest joys is to snap and eat asparagus right from the patch. If you’re interested, go to Andrew’s Scenic Acres. They have a one and a half-acre pick-your-own asparagus patch. Snap off as many as you want, have them weighed, and eat them like you would red licorice in the car on your way home. It’s asparagus season, cook it well and enjoy it often!
Lynn Ogryzlo is Ontario’s Local Food Ambassador, food writer and international award-winning author of The Ontario Table. lynnogryzlo.com
Places to buy the seasons first asparagus
Andrews’ Scenic Acres /
Scotch Block Winery
9365 No. 10 Side Road, Halton Hills
Marshall’s Real Farmers’ Market
13517 First Line, Milton
Burlington Mall Farmers’ Market
Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings
Hamilton Farmers’ Market
35 York Blvd., at MacNab St.,
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings
Hamilton Mountain Farmers’ Market
Viewpoint Dr., and Mountain Park Ave.,
Milton Farmer’s Market
Main St., Saturday morning
Dorval Crossing Civitan
200-240 North Service Rd., W., Oakville,
Georgetown Farmers’ Market
Main St., Saturday morning