One of the events I look forward to each spring is seeing the first of Michigan’s local crops come into our produce departments at Nino’s.
Among the very first is Michigan Asparagus, which, depending on our weather, you’ll see on our shelves as early as this week in May and (hopefully) throughout much, if not all, of June.
Although Michigan’s growing season is short (about 6 to 7 weeks), it’s both worth the wait AND worth enjoying more than once throughout its short run.
Perhaps THE best way to enjoy asparagus is with Hollandaise Sauce.
Michigan loves its asparagus so much so that Western Michigan’s Oceana County proclaims itself “The Asparagus Capital of the Nation” and is one of the fastest asparagus-growing asparagus regions in the country.
It’s also home to the Empire Asparagus Festival, which, since 1974, has held parades, shared recipes and provided family activities, all focused around those slender green sticks. It’s the longest-running asparagus festival in the country, and this year, it will be held from May 18th – 20th, 2018.
Approximately 120 local Michigan farmers produce approximately 20 million pounds of Michigan Asparagus on an estimated 9,500 acres of land during the state’s 6- to 7-week harvest!
Michigan ranks second in the nation for asparagus production thanks to its unique, sandy loam soil. This particular soil, found most often near Michigan’s west coast, is dominated by sand particles but also contains enough clay and sediment to provide structure and fertility. (California is #1, and Washington State is #3.)
Each acre of planted Michigan asparagus yields approximately 2,100 pounds.
40 percent of their harvest is sold fresh through May and June in local grocery stores, restaurants, and farmer’s markets as well as at roadside markets. The remainder is sold to processors who freeze or can the product for distribution throughout the United States.
It takes four years for an asparagus field to fully mature; fields last for approximately 20 years.
A mature field is picked 25 to 35 times per season.
About 500 million asparagus spears are harvested by hand each year, just as they reach the perfect height.
Asparagus spears can grow 1/2 inch per hour under ideal conditions; occasionally, a field is picked two times per day!
A single asparagus plant can produce 25 or more spears over the harvest season.
White and Green Asparagus can be harvested from the same plant because White Asparagus is simply Green Asparagus that has been covered with soil to blanch out the color. The flavor is about the same, but the texture may be more tender.
Purple Asparagus is a different variety. Michigan grows all three colors, but white is rarely found on Michigan shelves because it is so labor intensive to grow and harvest.
Asparagus plants grow up to six feet tall, and once leafed, will look like giant ferns. This fern is nurtured all summer and feeds the root system for the following year’s harvest.
Asparagus is low in calories, contains no fat or cholesterol, and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and rutin.
The most commonly used method to cook asparagus is simmering them in water for only a few minutes then serving them with melted butter, salt and pepper.
Other popular methods include steaming; broiling; sautéing with butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese; and marinating then char-grilling.
Looking for some great asparagus recipes? Click on these Nino Salvaggio website recipe links.