I like asparagus. So does Karen. It’s without a doubt our favorite vegetable. Back in the US where it is available pretty much year-round, we eat it year round, perhaps a couple of times a week. We were understandably excited several years ago when we first arrived here, looking forward to local asparagus, and probably because the French do such things, some kind of asparagus festival.
Alas, we arrived in the fall. And, this being France and not the US, almost everything is seasonal and indeed t’was not the season of asparagus. That, we were told, would be in spring. So we waited, sans asperge, through the winter. But when the first warm breezes of springtime stirred the air along the Loir announcing the arrival of the Time of Asparagus, we were left a-wanting, deeply disappointed, and culinarily stymied by The French Asparagus Conundrum.
Asparagus, you see, to the French is not green; it is white. It is not pencil thin and green, oh no. It is white as an albino rat, as long as a rolling pin, and as thick as the grip of a Louisville Slugger. They positively love this stuff. They go ga-ga for it. When the season arrives you find grocery stores and markets with enormous bins of white asparagus; French folk voraciously fighting to get to it as if there was a lost lottery ticket at the bottom. Worse, it is almost impossible to find green asparagus anywhere. If you do somehow manage to find some after a long search, its is almost always a meager little bunch or two forlornly tucked away in a corner somewhere, like a mistake.
Down the road from us is an asparagus farm. Amid this white asparagus hysteria we thought we would go to the farm and at least there possibly find some green asparagus. Wrong. All they had was white, and God knows there were tons of the stuff and a line of people queing up to get at it. They haul it away in big bunches, with a desperation driven by a short harvest season, after which it is gone again until the next year. I say good riddance. We hate the stuff.
Well, OK. Maybe hate is too strong a word. But in the 30-plus years we have been together we have chosen to buy white asparagus to take home and cook, let me see now….oh yeah. Never.
We were at a clandestine barbecue at Alex and Christophe’s recently (covid, you know) and when we casually mentioned our preference for asparagus of the green variety a stunned hush fell over the table. When we told them back in the US we eat it several times a week, year round, they thought we were lying. When we told them in no uncertain terms we don’t like white asparagus, they thought we were mad, launching into impassioned descriptions of how yummy it is. What don’t you like about it, they asked ?
“Well,” offered Beloved Wife, ” just the taste and the texture,” pretty much covering all the bases and leaving the white asparagus loyalists shaking their heads. We have no idea why this is the case, but it is. They act as though green asparagus is some kind of luxury item or decadent indulgence.
And so it was that a few days later in a conversation eerily reminiscent of the Great Turkey Score of several years ago, our friend Celine, who knows of our strange taste in vegetables, sidled up to me and said, in effect, ” Listen, I know this guy who grows green asparagus and I think I can get you some. Are you interested?”
“I know this guy ” seems to be a major conduit of commerce in France.
“WHY HELL YES !” I was tempted to say I’ll take all he has, but I balked at the prospect of a black market truckload of green asparagus pulling up to the front door of chez nous in the middle of the night.
“A kilo ?”
” Sure, you betcha. A kilo is fine.” It was sounding more and more like a drug deal.
Nothing was mentioned about it over the next week or two that we saw Celine. Then last weekend when we were over for coffee she proudly presented us with two bunches of beautiful, glorious green asparagus. No questions were asked. Karen was so excited I had to restrain her from grabbing the loot and bolting for home immediately.
Beloved Wife is not given to hyperbole. Yet that evening, before I could utter a similar thought, she said, “This really is the best asparagus I have ever tasted. Do you think Celine could score us some more ?”
“I dunno. I’ll have to ask her if she can get in touch with the guy.“
And now we wait. Word has been sent.