By Rosanna Bauman
The hottest topic around town is the weather. This is not an unusual occurrence in Kansas, because the weather always is doing something surprising. We have had an especially unpredictable spring. The fall was abnormally warm (we had crab apple trees blooming in late Novemberl) so our spring has been a mix of winter and summer. Last year, all of the gardens and cornfields were planted by the second week in April. This year, most of the corn and gardens have yet to be planted. Since January, our weeks have had about three really nice warm days, and three really cold days. It only takes one day for the temperature to do a forty-degree drop. The wind will be blowing nice and warm from the south, and then it slowly moves around to the west and starts blowing cold air from the north. this makes sense when you realize that there’s not much between Canada and Kansas but a bunch of cows! Today the temperature was in the eighties; tomorrow they are calling for snow! (In Mayl That happens in Wisconsin, not Kansas!) The stretches of warm days will get us within one day of being able to get In the dirt, and then it will either rain, or freeze us out. This has the boys nervous, as they are over a month late getting crops in. We were expecting another dry year like last year. Last year, the only crops that produced anything were what we had planted in early April. The April planting window is past.
All this up and down has made us quite impatient for spring to get here and stay! All the usual harbingers of spring are late because they keep getting confused with the cold snaps. We are getting pretty anxious to eat some asparagus. I don’t know that any of us children have turned up our nose at asparagus. Possibly, this is because fresh greens are one of the first antidotes to spring fever! I don’t recall that our mother has ever cooked up too large of a bowl of asparagus. We usually have to ration it out. Although there are many different ways to fix asparagus tastily, at our house, we only have need of one. Mom simply chops the asparagus into two inch pieces, then sautés them in butter and salt. When we have a whole skillet full, it’s a little difficult to get the asparagus tender without getting them mushy, so we are vigilant skillet-stirrers. Since we eat all of our asparagus supply sautéed, there is no need for recipes that use them in quiches or pickled asparagus. (caption: the above photo is of asparagus, mushrooms, and onions frying in a cast iron skillet at editor Kevin’s house,,,Rosanna said she would fry it just like above, right down to the cast iron skillet, just without the mushrooms and onions:) I avoided the pickled version for many years, thinking it looked a little disgusting, but it actually is pretty good. with asparagus on my mind, I trotted down the road a mile and a quarter to an abandoned farmstead. There is no remaining evidence of a house, only the barn and summer kitchen are left standing, but they too are crumbling into the earth. However, the hand-dug well and cedar trees are still standing strong in testimony of the hope that once lived there. By the ditch, if you look closely among the tall grasses, there’s a small patch of asparagus still holding out as evidence of planned horticulture. I pawed through several spots where I knew the asparagus crowns were, but I didn’t see even one stalk peeping up. I was a little early to find any asparagus, but I’ll return in two weeks, they should definitely be coming up by then. Since I was disappointed in the asparagus department I thought I’d gather some wild onions instead, I knew they grew in the opposite ditch. Apparently, the onions aren’t growing either, as none revealed themselves. Everything is late this year!
My Uncle Glenn has a bakery and an asparagus patch. I have, on occasion, helped them pick their two acres of asparagus. Picking asparagus can be backbreaking work, but they have designed a picker that makes it somewhat easier. Three seats are situated on a rack mounted to the front of the tractor. This enables you to be closer to the ground, but doesn’t eliminate back strain. As the tractor is driven slowly over the rows, you snap off all the stalks that are tall enough and drop them in the rectangular box you have strapped to your waist. Thankfully, asparagus season is in the early spring, when the temperature is milder than in the summer, so you don’t get sunburned as badly. Picking asparagus is mostly fun because you get to do it with your friends and cousins. Another nice thing about asparagus picking is that you don’t have to search for them under leaves like you do beans and strawberries. lt’s just the stalks peeping out of the dirt! Since asparagus has a short season (four to six weeks, depending on the weather) you know they’ll be gone almost before you get tired of picking. Although most asparagus is cut with a little forked knife just below the soil, my uncle prefers to snap off the asparagus above the ground. This causes the asparagus to act similar to a fresh flower. They form little asparagus “bouquets” and put them in vats of water in a cooler. The asparagus can be in a cooler for up to a week and still stay fresh, because they drink the water to stay crisp. Even more fascinating, the asparagus will continue to growl They can get up to another inch taller after they are picked, if they have water to drink. That’s a good deal for the grower! Too bad the wheat and corn doesn’t continue to expand after we harvest it- we may need something like that this year!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosanna Bauman, 24, pictured above, is a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church who lives and farms with her family in Kansas.