Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Ode to asparagus


What a disaster this spring has been. Cold and wet with not more than a handful of days that were barely decent, let alone sunny and summery.

We slipped from slush right into mud, with barely a rise in temperature.

Thank God, then, for asparagus. Because short of blizzard conditions, asparagus still pokes its purple nose out of the ground with the sweet promise of summer to come.

Not surprising that the ancient Romans thought that asparagus spears cured whatever ailed you. Roman emperors were so fond of asparagus that they kept special boats for the purpose of fetching it, called "Asparagus fleets."

There's no denying they're a sweet green tonic when the rest of the garden -- the rest of the world -= is still cold, cold mud. Makes you feel like Caesar.

Maybe that's because the vegetable is low in calories, high in fibre, a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and even protein. It's a nutritionist's dream come true.

Unless that's a nutritionist with gout. Apparently asparagus can kick up a nasty bout.

And then there's the urine thing.

There's no delicate way to put this -- somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the population notice that their pee smells funny after they eat asparagus. Oddly pungent because of sulfur compounds in the vegetable.

A chemical compound called methanethiol is fingered as the culprit by some researchers -- famous for its effect in rotten eggs, cabbages, and paper mills. "Paper mills on a warm cloudy day" gets close, but the olfactory effect is very hard to describe as anything but eau d'asperge.

However a sore toe and a slightly musty loo are small prices to pay for the springtime pleasure of fresh-steamed asparagus.

But do take care with the cooking. Asparagus goes from perfect (slightly crunchy) to a mushy mess in about 15 seconds in your vegetable steamer.

And though some swear by Hollandaise sauce, I say, "Let the Dutch keep their yellow gravy!"

You simply cannot improve on the stuff straight out of the garden, lightly steamed, maybe -- maybe -- the tiniest pinch of salt to highlight the sweetness. But nothing else -- not even the sweetest butter -- can make it better.

It's was that kind of May. You deserve to treat yourself to a big plate, maybe a whole colander, full of fresh asparagus.

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