Some folks mark the start of spring by the start of gloomy weather. Others say it begins at Easter or Passover. For me, spring officially begins when Zuckerman Farms brings its first load of jumbo asparagus to the local farmers markets.
I picked up my first bunch Sunday at my local Long Beach Marina market, and so I am now ready to declare the season open. You may begin.
Zuckerman, now in its fourth generation farming the Stockton Delta, is well known for the quality of its asparagus in general, but for me, the real treasure they grow -- and my favorite harbinger of spring -- is the extra-thick jumbos.
I go through pounds of it, prepared all different ways. But the first batch -- it’s a rule somewhere -- has to be simply steamed and dressed with a mix of fruity olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Oh, yeah, and the best coarse salt I can find dusted over just at the last minute for crunch.
Thick asparagus like this deserves to be a featured ingredient. Save the thin asparagus to use in prepared dishes like frittatas, pastas or risottos. Cook the thick spears until they just turn limp and you’ll be amazed by the buttery texture.
The first cut of asparagus was late this year, coming the first week of March, when it more usually falls around the middle of February. It’s been cold up north, says Roscoe Zuckerman. He's the fourth Roscoe Zuckerman to farm asparagus in the Delta.
The harvest will continue as long as the plants keep pushing up spears -- until May or maybe even early June if we’re lucky.
The fat spears, Zuckerman says, take perfect conditions -- healthy, vigorous plants and plenty of water. Younger fields tend to produce more of the thicker spears than older ones.
These are tough times for California’s asparagus farmers. In fact, they have been for more than a decade. This is the first time I’ve talked to a Zuckerman in several seasons that they haven’t said they were thinking about pulling out of the market. Maybe Roscoe was just in a hurry this time. Or maybe he's still feeling young and vigorous himself.