Wild Asparagus: Finding It and Grilling It

I remember as a child my mother going out to look for wild asparagus in the spring.  She’d typically look along rural roadways where irrigation ran alongside.  This all slipped my mind until this spring.  Following my Urban Foraging class two weekends ago, I’ve been bitten by the foraging bug.  Asparagus popped to mind, but admittedly all my knowledge of how and where to find it had gone dormant with the lazy availability of food at grocery stores.
As luck would have it, I had a star-crossed conversation with someone I know about this very subject.  She too gathers asparagus in the spring and fortified my memory about the ‘how to’s’.  She’d not spotted any yet this spring but we made a date to tour her farm property which turned into a wild asparagus hunt with great success.
As any good forager would do I will not name said friend or her property location.  Frankly madcap circumstances seem cosmically drawn to her (I surmise as a sign her calling is to document them in a book) and due to respecting her privacy and that of her animals.  She shared bizarre tales of rogue neighbors (since moved fortunately) cleaning her out of asparagus without asking and wandering amongst her horses and belonging uninvited, prompting the need to increase their liability insurance at a minimum.
I stepped out of my car on an overcast, soon to be rainy morning, last weekend and instantly knew this would be the highlight of my weekend.  Before going out into a sprawling back pasture which meets open space land, we met a mother horse and her strapping 3 week old son.  No doubt the constant work opportunity on a farm this size would be potentially overwhelming though it seemed one step from heaven to me to be this close to the earth and a self contained food existence.
The back pasture was full of grazing horses which will give way to flooding in the early summer to encourage more grass growth.  This is where our hunt began.  Admittedly it felt at times like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ exercise as you’ll note from my photos.  I’ll include several to help train your eye. 
Where to find wild asparagus:
It tends to grow in rural areas where there is water.  Look around irrigation ditches in the countryside (those with and without water in them).  Avoid private property unless you are invited but it’s very common to find the asparagus in ditches on the side of a road. Park and walk the ditch.
How to spot wild asparagus:
You’ll note in the photos some dead, yellowish, tall, wispy plant material around the new asparagus growth.  This would be last year’s plant and the source of the new growth.  On our walkabout I found myself scouting for these which once realizing what they are became easily identifiable.  Once at a spent plant, search the base for something new.  They are probably surrounded by higher weeds or grasses so it does take a persistent eye.  We found one or two stalks at each plant site.
How to Harvest
As with store bought asparagus, once you find a stalk, follow it down the stalk until you find a pliable spot between where it is very supple and woody.  Snap it at a 90 degree angle.
Going to seed
It’s tricky to find the asparagus exactly at the right time.  As my friend mentioned, she’d gone looking a few weeks ago to find nothing.  On our trip some had already gone to seed and some looked close; there were still more just starting.  Going regularly once spring sets in is the best chance to find the wild asparagus.
There IS an asparagus in this photo!

 

My favorite way to prepare asparagus is to grill it.  Especially with something as special as this, I want to taste the asparagus solely and not a sauce.  This is a simple celebration of this fabulous wild find!  This of course can be used with purchased asparagus as well.
GRILLED ASPARAGUS
Ingredients:
·         1 pound asparagus
·         1-2 tablespoon olive oil
·         Salt and pepper to taste
1.       Wash and dry the asparagus.  Be sure to trim any woody stalks at the bottom if having purchased from the store.
2.      Heat a grill to medium heat.
3.      Brush asparagus with the olive oil on both sides.  Salt and pepper liberally.  Place on the grill for about 2 minutes a side (enough to form grill marks and for it to being to soften without becoming limp).  Enjoy immediately!
I must admit the wild asparagus we foraged was exceptional and noteably different than the cultivated asparagus I’ve had.  It was sweet with a much more dense flavor.  I savored every stalk, feeling so fortunate.

Comments

  1. says

    Grilling asparagus is my favorite cooking method as well. I guess I always assumed that asparagus grew under an enchanted oak in a unicorn's pasture. Thanks for taking the mystery out of this for me.

  2. says

    You are so funny, hunting asparagus. You know, in the area of Germany where I grew up there are huge asparagus fields. I think people there would get a kick out of your hunt. I am glad to see you were successful and got to visit with the horses. That would have been more important to me. We have a 4 day old fole at our barn, so cute.
    Grilling or roasting are my favorite methods to enjoy asparagus, too. It brings out the flavors so well.

  3. says

    Toni-You certainly have the advantage of the country living, and you are so experienced in the bounty of natural and organic treats, I'm in awe of just coming along for the “ride.”
    I've never seen wild asparagus, never even heard of them…although I did grill up a nice little batch of organic asparagus from Whole Foods, in the cast iron skillet.
    Your photos are so professional…enjoyed your post a lot!
    I should, actually I will post my grilled asparagus, and link the recipe back to you, because that's how I prepared it:DDD

  4. says

    That is so interesting! I had no idea you could find asparagus growing in the wild. I don't know if it would be in Southern California, but I will definitely be looking into it. The urban foraging class sounds awesome, loved reading your post about it. What a neat lady!

  5. DiannG says

    I too have shared in the wild aparagus hunt…it's so much fun and finding one is like hitting the lottery! Grilling them is also my favorite way to cook asparagus. Roasting them briefly in the oven works too.

  6. says

    My father knew of a spot for wild asparagus when we were kids. I may just need to go out to see if I can find it–and if not there is the grocery store. Looks soooo delicious!

  7. says

    Asparagus is one of the first wild foods I learned to forage. I've done it since I was a kid, both with my dad and my gran (who called it aspara-grus). In fact, it's the first food I refused to eat store-bought, because it could never compare.

    I've been picking it for about two weeks now. But with the recent rain, things should start picking up. I think I collected about 1.5 lbs today.

    Great post :)

  8. chitchatchomp@yahoo.com.au says

    What a fantastic post – thank you. It sounded like the perfect weekend and all that asparagus at the end of it – delicious!

  9. says

    I love grilled asparagus … but wild asparagus … WOW I didn't even know that this grew wild. What a lucky find. In Italy, we picked berries and chestnuts and sometimes mushrooms (now I think you need to have a permit for that) and I know how much fun it is to go home and find a way to use what you picked. Great post, I really enjoyed this.

Trackbacks

  1. […] One of my favorite vegetables of spring is asparagus.  It begins to pop up about this time in stores and spring is the perfect time for seeking it in the wild.  In Colorado its availability is a more likely in a few months but it’s the time to start keeping an eye out in small irrigation ditches along the side of rural roads, especially when water runs through them.  For more tips on spotting, harvesting and preparing wild asparagus, click here. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *