01 June, 2009

Backseat Adventure - Asparagus Festival

Much to Hubby's chagrin I dragged him away from the yard and we made the drive to Edgar Farms' first Asparagus Festival.  He was tired and tried not to be cranky, but the rewards were sweet.  The girls sat on a horse and a pony, got to pet some brand new goats, ran around a hay bale maze and fort, and even went on a tractor ride.  But the highlight of the day for me, and possibly Hubby, was eating stalks of asparagus that we'd just picked from the ground.  It would never have occurred to us to eat asparagus raw, but we were trusting the advice of Elna Edgar, and she would know.

Elna and Doug Edgar own and operate their farm, with their daughter and son-in-law just South of Innisfail, Alberta.  They are a traditional grain and cattle farm.  But they also grow fantastic peas (so I am told) and Alberta's only commercial asparagus.  And they've been doing it for nearly two decades.  So, when Elna tells me to take a taste of asparagus right from the ground I do it.  

Wow, what a revelation!  Other than the fact that raw asparagus tastes more than vaguely like peas, it was crisp, light, and purely fresh.  Unlike tomatoes that you pick in the late summer sun this tasted like cool spring.  The Monster and Smilosaurus had as much as they could eat.  Good thing the baby got her front teeth a few weeks ago.

We saw the asparagus fields last summer, long after harvest.  Did you know asparagus is a fern? But as soon as it comes out of the ground the spears can be picked and will continue to grow. The only thing that stops the Edgars from a continuous harvest is the need to let the crowns rejuvenate to produce next year.  During spring, however, these custom pickers travel up and down the fields picking the tall enough crowns. It is a near continuous harvest for more than a few weeks as the crowns can grow over 6 inches a day!

Once we returned from the fields we tasted some freshly grilled asparagus from both Wade Sirois from Forage and Infuse Catering and dee Hobsbawn-Smith.  Grilled is my all-time favourite way to eat asparagus.  A little toss with olive oil then just a few minutes on a hot grill. You can drizzle some lemon or vinaigrette over top, but I will happily eat them like fries straight off the grill.

One of the best things was hearing people's surprise when they heard that no, you don't need to break off the ends or peel asparagus when it is this fresh.  And you don't get any fresher than off the picker's truck.
Asparagus Festival is over until next year.  Okay, this was the first one and there are no guarantees, but I'm betting that we and many more will be back next year.  You don't have to wait until then to go to Edgar Farms.  You can visit them daily at their farm store - where they currently have asparagus, rhubarb, their own beef, and a variety of asparagus pickles, relishes, and some sweet berry jams.

You can also visit Edgar Farms with the rest of the Innisfail Growers at farmers' markets around the province.  And make sure to stay on top of things through Doug Edgar's blog, he'll keep you up-to-date on harvests, this year's pea crop, and more on-farm events.


jh said...

Great post. Reminded me of Kingsolver's bit in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about how she always planted asparagus wherever she lived because even if she wasn't there for the whole two years it took to get established, at least the renters after her would receive a great gift. I have been lucky enough to be able to pick wild asparagus near where I live. Truly wonderful. Thanks for the great posts!

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Cheryl Sternman Rule said...

That top photo is awesome. I'm a big asparagus fan, but I don't think I've ever actually seen it grow. We have a garlic festival near us, and an artichoke festival, but I haven't heard about an asparagus festival. I'll have to do some research...

Anonymous said...

Those picers are so cool! I've only picked asparagus in a home garden. Now that I'm seeing all the cool stuff you learned, I want to go to an asparagus farm!

Aimée said...

I've always wanted to go to an asparagus farm. Oh and baby is such a cutie!!

Anonymous said...

I wish I could have made the fest! Did you go home with a cooler full?? I cannot wait to be in my own place so I can plan three years ahead and actually plant some..

Kevin Kossowan said...

I'm glad you went!
I've been forcing people to try fresh thin asparagus for years, begging them to agree that it's like a super-awesome-fresh pea. Paired with super-good extra virgin canola oil [which is also green/pea-tastic], it should be a provincial dish.

Blender Benefits said...

I was never aware of all much work went into growing asparagus. What an amazing food.