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Food Notes: Asparagus season in N.J.; Cinco de Mayo dip recipe

July 10, 2015 | Community News and Media, Media Coverage

Originally posted on

By Susan Sprague Yeske | For The Times


Asparagus at Terhune Orchards in Lawrence Township in a file photo. (Martin Griff)

We can only imagine the joy of America’s colonists when the first asparagus spears pushed out of the earth on a long-ago warm April morning.

For them, it provided much-needed nutrients after a winter of deprivation; for us, it’s the sign that the spring harvest season is hitting its stride in New Jersey.

Asparagus is a favorite vegetable here in the Garden State, eagerly awaited each spring. Its season began last week, when Terhune Orchards in Lawrence and Katona Farms in Crosswicks began cutting their first spears. That season will continue through May and possibly into June, with asparagus stalks sometimes growing six or seven inches on a single warm, sunny day.

Terhune Orchards is the only local farm that allows customers to pick their own asparagus. Call to make sure there is enough in the fields for you to come out to pick.

Asparagus is an ancient vegetable, probably originating in the Middle East, then spreading to Europe, where it originally grew wild. It was first cultivated by Greeks and Romans 2,000 years ago. They may not have known its nutritional value, but we know it’s a powerhouse with a variety of minerals and vitamins K, C, A, E, B1, B2 and B6. It has both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant benefits.

Finding asparagus at local farmers’ markets is the surest way to ensure it is fresh, and has the most nutrients. When you are ready to store your asparagus in the refrigerator, wrap the ends in a damp paper or cloth towel. It’s best to eat it within 48 hours of purchase, if you can.

Asparagus is simple to cook, just first make sure it is cleaned properly. To get the sand out of the tops, set the stalks upside-down in a bowl of warm water and let them sit for 15 minutes. The warmth allows the tops to open and release any dirt.

Roasting with a sprinkling of oil, salt and pepper, or steaming upright are two ways to prepare asparagus. Another is this Colonial-era recipe from “The City Tavern Cookbook,” a collection of historical recipes compiled by Walter Staib, executive chef at The City Tavern Restaurant in Philadelphia. The City Tavern opened in 1773 and played host to the Founding Fathers of our country during the late 18th century. This recipe was reportedly one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites:

Thomas Jefferson’s Marinated Asparagus

1 ½ pounds asparagus stems peeled and trimmed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Pinch of fresh thyme
Pinch of chopped fresh parsley
1 egg, hard cooked and chopped
½ small red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fine capers, drained
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Wash the asparagus and trim the tough ends of the stalks. In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Place the asparagus in the water and cook until just tender, 2-3 minutes.

Drain asparagus. Add enough cold water to cover the asparagus. Let stand about 5 minutes, until the asparagus is cool.

Drain again and pat the asparagus dry with paper towels. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, thyme, parsley, egg, onion, and capers, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the asparagus on a serving platter. Pour the vinaigrette evenly over the asparagus. Let the asparagus marinate in the dressing for a few minutes (optional). Garnish with additional chopped egg and parsley, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

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