Where asparagus once grew wild

Posted on May 22 2018 in Outdoors

By Jack Spaulding

One of my fond experiences as a child came with the first warming days of spring. Prior to cultivated side ditches, mowed fence rows and the liberal use of herbicides, wild asparagus proliferated in the side ditches along the county roads. And it was free for the picking!

The sporadic patches took root from stray seeds dropped by birds feeding on the seeds from nearby gardens. Once sprouted, the hearty plant would mature and seed and produce more plants in a growing cluster.

I remember loading up with Mom and my sister Mary in the old family station wagon armed with paper grocery bags and paring knives.

Once we were out of town, the hunt would begin. Mom would slowly idle the old Ford down the county roads at a snail’s pace while my sister and I stuck our heads out of the car windows and scanned the ditches for the dark green spears of asparagus.

When one of us spied our prized quarry, we would holler … Mom would stop the old Ford, and we would scramble out of the car and into the side ditch to gather the stalks. As the warm spring weather continued, the stalks of asparagus became more mature and taller.

At this point, we stopped using the paring knife and opted to simply bend the stalk to snap the top off. When the tops are snapped off like this, it guarantees a soft, chewable spear when the asparagus hits the plate.

On a good run, we might fill two large paper grocery bags with the succulent stalks. What a haul!

Usually the spears were boiled in salted water, drained and liberally coated with butter when prepared for the table. Truth be known: As a boy, I appreciated the hunt a whole lot more than actually eating the asparagus.

A few years ago, I spotted a lone patch of the velvety looking mature plants along a county road near home. I hadn’t seen any wild asparagus in years. I made a mental note to come back the following spring to see if I could pick just a few spears.

The next year, I was disappointed to find even the last patch had disappeared under the onslaught of a tractor mounted mower.

My wife and I have a favorite recipe for our garden asparagus. We wash and dry the stalks, lay them on a cookie sheet, drizzle the stalks with a little virgin olive oil and sprinkle them with sea salt. About 15 minutes or so in the oven at 350 F produces an amazing side dish for any meal.

I can’t help but wonder, though, how wild asparagus would taste if fixed this way.

Jack Spaulding is a state outdoors writer and a consumer of RushShelby Energy living along the Flatrock River in Moscow. Readers with questions or comments can write to him in care of Electric Consumer, P.O. Box 24517, Indianapolis, IN 46224; or email jackspaulding@hughes.net.