Kids Trail Mascots Fungi, Ridge, Bucket and Shenny

April means awesome asparagus! It’s one of KT Wellness Mascot Fungi’s favorite foods. Fungi’s been busy visiting farmers on the Kids Trail, learning more about delicious and healthy asparagus. And since he’s a budding chef, he’s also sharing a couple of recipes.

Asparagus Ancient History

Did you know asparagus is a distant cousin of the onion? KT Heritage Mascot Ridge did a little research on the plant’s history. The garden version originated in eastern Mediterranean countries. And archeologists have found evidence that it was used for offerings in Egypt. It was also prized by the Greeks for its medicinal qualities.  But it was the Romans who put it the map. They would eat it as a side dish with fish or even as an entree.

Asparagus was served to European kings and queens in the 16th and 17th centuries. Early American colonists brought it from Europe, but it was not planted by commercial growers until the 1850’s.  Today you can find it growing on the Kids Trail at Mackintosh Fruit Farm, Lydia’s Fields at Wheatland, and West Oaks Farm Market.

How Does Asparagus Grow?

Cultivating asparagus takes time. Mackintosh Fruit Farm started their asparagus crop 10 years ago.  And Lydia’s Fields planted their first asparagus crowns in 2013.  Typically crowns, instead of seeds, are planted in the Spring but not harvested the first year so they can develop to their full potential. “It’s not difficult to grow and it returns for multiple years,” says Levi Snapp from West Oaks. “At the end of each harvest season, we allow the plants to “fern out” to return nutrients back to the root for the following year.”

“I love to see asparagus fronds, which come from un-harvested spears, grow and blow in the breeze,” says Robert Schuster of Lydia’s Fields. “Going into the asparagus patch in July or August, when the fronds reach high and wide, is like entering a forest of giant trees.” KT Action Mascot Bucket loves wandering through the patch. And you’ll find Creativity Mascot Shenny drawing her interpretation of the plants.

What Fungi Does With Asparagus

When it comes to choosing asparagus, Fungi selects firm, smaller stalks with tight heads, which are more tender. If he’s not serving them immediately, he stores his asparagus upright in the refrigerator in about an inch of water. The water is important because asparagus won’t keep well if it’s just placed in the crisper drawer.

Asparagus is an easy dish to make. Fungi sometimes grills it in foil packs with butter and garlic salt. Or he bakes it on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then he’ll add a little mozzarella cheese. The Kids Trail gang also enjoys asparagus raw and chilled in Italian salad dressing. Fungi has even made  asparagus soup and quiche with his mom.

How Fungi Gets Picky Eaters to Try Asparagus

Kids Trail Wellness Mascot Fungi

While asparagus is rich in nutrients, it sometimes isn’t easy to get kids to try new vegetables. Levi’s mom, Mary Snapp, offers this advice – just add some cheese. Here’s her easy recipe:

Mary Snapp’s Microwave Asparagus

  • Layer asparagus in glass baking dish.
  • Top with a few pats of butter and sprinkle garlic salt
  • Sprinkle Parmesan cheese then microwave 6-7 minutes or until tender
  • Add mozzarella to the top and microwave to melt

And kids are more inclined to eat something if they’ve had a hand in selecting it. Lori Mackintosh recommends bringing your family to her U-Pick farm to hunt for asparagus in the fields.  And Robert’s advice? ”Tell them the Romans ate lots of it.”

As for the budding scientists, let them know about the chemical compound found in asparagus that makes urine smell different. Yes, Shenny thinks it’s a little gross (because she’s such a girly girl) – but if it gets your kid to try something new, it’s worth a shot.

An Awesome Asparagus Recipe

Asparagus on Toast Courtesy of Lydia's FieldsAmy Page, Farm Manager for Lydia’s Fields, gave Fungi this recipe for awesome asparagus. Try making it with your kids. And cooking is a great way to teach fractions.

Asparagus on Toast

There are essentially three components to this recipe – steamed asparagus, cheese sauce (béchamel sauce with cheddar melted into it), and toasted bread. 

Steamed Asparagus Ingredients: asparagus, water

  • Wash asparagus spears/stalks and snap off the ends (compost them!)
  • I prefer to use a vegetable steamer basket, but it’s not required.  Put about 3-4” of water into a saucepan and add asparagus stalks.
  • Place a lid on the saucepan and steam over medium heat until the stalks are tender (about 6-8 minutes).  Check tenderness with a fork. You don’t want your veggies to be mushy, just tender.
  • Once stalks are tender, turn off the heat and empty the water out of the pan.  Keep the lid on so the veggies stay warm.

Cheese Sauce (béchamel sauce with cheddar) Ingredients: 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp all purpose flour, 1-1/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, salt & pepper to taste

  • Over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in flour to make a paste.
  • Slowly add milk, making sure to incorporate it into the paste as it’s added.  The mix will thicken as it heats up. Stir constantly so it doesn’t stick or burn.
  • Add the shredded cheese and stir until it is thoroughly melted. Salt and pepper to taste.

Toast Ingredients: I like to use whole wheat or multigrain bread, but you may use any kind of bread

  • If the loaf is not pre-cut, slice it.
  • Toast bread until it is golden brown on both sides.
  • Place toast on a plate, top it with asparagus, and add the cheese sauce on top of the spears.

How to Get Your Asparagus

Mackintosh Fruit Farm: At the time this article was written, Mackintosh Fruit Farm was not operating its U-Pick fields due to Covid-19. But you can order asparagus and other tasty farm treats through their new Barn2Door online store. Visit the farm’s website for details.

Lydia’s Fields: There are many ways to purchase, including Lydia’s Veggie Share 2020. This is the farm’s CSA (community supported agriculture) program. Full and half shares are available, beginning in May. You can also call (540) 822-0353 to place an order for farm pickup. There’s a Local Line Shop and you can order through MarketMaker as well. 

West Oaks Farm Market: You’ll find asparagus available at both West Oaks Farm Market locations. And be sure to check out their CSA program as well for more good eating.