In Praise of Mexican Asparagus


One of the problems with the locavore movement is that it expects a superhuman amount of willpower. And I say that as someone who would like to fancy herself — with a couple notable exceptions we can address at another time — otherwise a supporter of it.

At least this is the case for those of us in the north, whom for the better part of the past few months haven’t seen an appealing fresh vegetable in the flesh. Those of us for whom even the fruits and vegetables that technically keep the whole winter in proper storage — the apples and winter squashes and carrots and turnips of the world — have begun to get a wrinkle here and bad spot there.

Which isn’t to ignore the problems inherent to the conventional model either. They truck a bunch of other stuff in too, and it always arrives either under-flavored or overripe — sometimes both. There are few fruits and vegetables that seem to truly hold up in a mass-produce-it then ship-it-around-the-world model.

Clam shells filled with red pyramidal fruits sold as strawberries from far flung locales occupy space at my favorite market almost constantly from January to January. Yet, I write about them being “sold as strawberries” for a reason: whatever they are, strawberries isn’t it. Not in flavor or texture or gratification. Not in any definition of that word I could, personally, fathom being appropriate.

Which, I suppose, is kind of the point; it is precisely why finding food that is both fresh and not just edible, but appetizing in December and January and February and even March is an exercise in creativity and compromise. We exhaust ourselves on storables and the exceptions to the rule and count the days until we can expect something, anything new to pop up at the store.

Asparagus is one of those things. Not quite the same, but close enough to be a reasonable stand-in; close enough to get your blood pumping when you see it in the store for the first time; close enough for me to have, when selecting two bunches of it from its ice-bath at the market this week, uttered my thanks to Mexican farmers aloud.

Mexican asparagus isn’t quite the same, but it’s close and it’s the first sign that the real thing is getting closer. This week it showed up in my local market and kicked off the most reliable annual countdown to that thing — spring and the local growing season — there is. For the next several weeks we will watch the source tags on the asparagus march northward. By the time they read, “Michigan” we will have lambs and spring-born piglets and chicks-on-order. We’ll have flats of vegetable starts inside and rows of plant-as-soon-as-the-ground-is-workables outside. We’ll have hope, renewed. And for a glimpse of that light at the end of the tunnel, if nothing else, I can praise Mexican asparagus today.

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