Renwald: Wild asparagus ready to pick along roads
Marisa Renwald April 30, 2012 4:22PM
Updated: June 3, 2012 8:05AM
Over 50 years ago, Newton and Jasper counties were the hubbub for asparagus farming. Hundreds of acres reserved for the coveted crop displayed the slender green stalks in masses every April. Taking a nice Sunday drive through the country meant seeing truckloads of asparagus from DeMotte farms pass by on their way to canning factories. Newton and Jasper counties were asparagus country — well into the 1970s before other crops took precedence.
Now, most of the fields once dotted with wispy twigs of emerald are overrun with the the tender ears of sweet corn and the plump blueberries that we so much associate with Indiana summers. But the asparagus isn’t gone. In quite a poetic way that pays homage to our Indiana Native American ancestors’ beliefs, the seeds of the asparagus have propagated in the wind over the last half of the century, spreading across Indiana’s countryside to finalize the cycle of rebirth. The wild asparagus now pops up in fat thickets of green all along the country roads in Newton and Jasper counties, and the locals aren’t naïve to the new expanded venues.
Today, you can spot pickups parked just off the gravel roads in DeMotte, Roselawn and Fair Oaks with their passengers walking close by. Plastic bags in hand, they scavenge the tall grass between the road and the fences or ditches that mark private property. The asparagus here is fair game. If it isn’t picked now, no one will pick it.
These aren’t food puritans, obsessed with seeking out the freshest naturally grown, pesticide-free local ingredients they can find; these are regular folks who have known their whole lives that what tastes good grows right in their back yards. And they are persistent. They’ll scope the brush when the first full rays of sunlight illuminate the greenery until just before dusk. Yet, their harvesting is bountiful: pounds of the best tasting asparagus will flavor their dinner dishes for the next week. If you’re lucky enough, you can join them during late April and early May. Or if you’re really lucky, you might have your own strip of property in Newton or Jasper county to search for your own wild asparagus.
Roasted asparagus in olive oil and butter with just a sprinkling of salt and pepper is always best, but when you’ve got so many leftovers of your fresh picking, you’ll be looking for other recipes. Try out this dish, which features chopped fresh asparagus in a quick quiche. It can be tough to marry the flavor of asparagus to any other flavor — especially cheese — but the mild and sweet tastes of gruyere, Asiago and Romano play off the union perfectly. Add a little pancetta for a protein-filled supper, although it isn’t really necessary. The asparagus alone should be the starring ingredient.
Spend some time in the fields looking for that wild Indiana asparagus. It will make spending some time in the kitchen so worthwhile.
3 pounds fresh asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup diced pancetta
1 unbaked deep dish pie shell
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Steam asparagus until just tender or al dente. Arrange asparagus in pie shell. In a medium bowl, mix together cheeses and pancetta (if using) with eggs. Season with nutmeg and salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over asparagus and top with grated Romano cheese. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until firm. Let cool slightly before slicing.
Source: Marisa Renwald