Asparagus Season and Availability
Available year-round, spring is the best season for fresh asparagus. Crops are harvested from late February to June, with April being the prime month.
The stalks shoot up from the crown of the plant and grow into fern-like leaves when allowed to develop. However, the edible stalks are harvested strictly by hand before the actual fern leaves develop. It takes three years from the sowing of the seed to the harvest of the first stalks.
The plants are either male or female. The female produces seeds, which not only reduce the size of the stalks, but also crowd the beds with seedlings. Since the males do not expend energy making seeds, their stalks are larger and more desirable. New cultivars have been bred to produce only male plants for more cost-efficient crops.
Asparagus is one of the few vegetables that is grown as a perennial, since the plants have about a 10-year life.
Asparagus comes in the following grades: colossal, jumbo, large, standard, and small. Varieties are interchangeable in recipes, with the only change being in the color of the resultant dish.
• Green asparagus: Ranging from pencil-thin to very thick. Most American asparagus is of this variety.
• White: Preferred in Europe, these sunlight-deprived stalks are a little milder and more delicate. It is difficult to find fresh in the United States, but widely available canned (usually in jars).
• Violet or Purple: This variety is most commonly found in England and Italy and has a very thick and substantial stalk.
• Wild: Asparagus grows wild in some areas, particularly in Europe. You'll most likely have to hunt down your own, as it is rarely available fresh in markets, except in Italy and the South of France.