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Stalking Wild Asparagus, Just Like Euell Gibbons Did

Asparagus bites. Credit: Wendy Petty

As a kid, I’d follow close on my dad’s heels when he went to the local fishing hole, where he’d spend the day reeling in crappie and bluegill. We’d share peanut butter sandwiches and catch crawdaddies and garter snakes while waiting for the fish to bite. At some point in the day, we’d always hunt for wild asparagus, which also grew around the pond.

There was something so gratifying about walking home in my overalls and bare feet with a stringer of fish and a bag full of just-picked asparagus, knowing we’d eat those very foods for dinner.

My father will tell anyone who will listen that the asparagus doesn’t grow until the thunder shakes it from the ground. He has a full head of white hair now, and people sit in rapture of his wisdom. Me? I’m not so sure. I picked my first asparagus this year between snowstorms. It made its debut almost seven weeks later than last year.

That might sound frustrating, but it is actually part of the appeal. I only eat wild asparagus, which grows during a narrow window in the spring.

For me, store-bought asparagus will never do. I don’t ever want to see it on my plate at the end of summer, or at Thanksgiving. The fact that it only appears once a year, and in a way that is highly variable, only adds to its charm. When the asparagus finally arrives, it is a herald of the season, and it is marked with a feast. Part of the joy of foraging is only eating foods during the short window of time that they are in season. It makes for an endless series of celebrations.

Wild asparagus in spring grasses. Credit: Wendy Petty

Wild asparagus in spring grasses. Credit: Wendy Petty

The wild asparagus I forage, Asparagus officinalis, is the same that Euell Gibbons made famous in his book, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” It is also the same species as the one sold commercially. This means that once you know how to find it in the wild, it is readily recognized.

The surest way to find asparagus is to find the overgrown fern-like mature plants from the previous year. For the most part, it grows in the same place from year to year. Old, dried asparagus has a distinctive orange-yellow tone that stands out against the new green growth of spring. Wild asparagus seems to really love fence lines, railroads and drainage ditches, but don’t be surprised to see it growing in the middle of a field.

Some people will try to tell you that only thin asparagus is good. Don’t believe them. Thick or thin, wild asparagus tastes the same. I prefer the thicker ones simply because they provide a more substantial bite of asparagus goodness. The most important factor in picking wild asparagus is to choose stalks that still have tightly closed heads, no matter how tall or thick they should grow.

Wild Asparagus Bites

I prefer to serve these gluten-free nibbles at room temperature, but they are equally delicious eaten hot or cold.

Ingredients

12 spears wild asparagus

1 shallot, sliced into half moons

Olive oil

½ cup ricotta cheese

2 ounces goat cheese chevre

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg, room temperature

1 tablespoon cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

Black pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Heat  oven to 425 F.

2. Clean the wild asparagus and prepare them by snapping off the tough ends.

3. Toss the asparagus and shallots with olive oil, salt and pepper, making certain the asparagus and shallots are coated with oil.

4. Place the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, or until the thickest asparagus spear can easily be pierced with a knife. After removing the asparagus and shallots, reduce the oven temperature to 300 F.

5 While the asparagus is roasting, prepare the cheesy base. Mix together the ricotta, goat cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, cornstarch, salt and pepper until they are evenly combined.

6. Carefully cut off the tips of the roasted asparagus and set them aside.

7. Chop the remaining asparagus and shallots. You can do this roughly with a knife. Just make certain the pieces end up at least a quarter-inch thick or smaller.

8. Stir the chopped asparagus and shallots into the egg and cheese mixture.

9. Fill 12 greased mini muffin cups three-quarters full with the asparagus mixture. Place an asparagus tip atop each filled cup.

10. Bake the wild asparagus bites at 300 F for 20 minutes.

Wild asparagus bites. Credit: Wendy Petty



Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty is a wild foods enthusiast dedicated to showing people how to transform abundant, "weedy" plants into free and nutritious kitchen staples. She is the foraging instructor at the Laughing Coyote Project, and shares her favorite wild foods from the Rocky Mountain region at Hunger and Thirst.

3 COMMENTS
  • Elisabeth Luard 1·27·14

    When yr wild asparagus has shot – i.e. the buds have opened n are on the way to ferndom – the little sprouts are still edible n good for cooking in a Spanish tortilla (used to pick ’em in Andalucia) and in soup (used to pick ’em in S of France).

  • Wendy Petty 1·27·14

    Excellent. Obviously I love eggs, and soup is a staple. Just to be clear, to which part are you referring to when you say little sprouts?

  • Kate. 3·13·14

    Why, oh WHY did I click on this article?! I’ve now seen your recipe for “The Bites” and spring is just not coming soon enough! I can’t wait to get my hands on some freshly foraged asparagus!

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