Spring means warmer weather and flowering trees. But for me, the harbinger of spring is asparagus, that delicious edible member of the lily family that usually bursts forth from the cool ground this month.
Sangamon County is a great source of asparagus, with plenty of farmers selling their produce at the downtown farmers’ market and at roadside stands such as Jefferies Orchard, located on Route 29. The patch was started about 100 years ago, says Ruth Jefferies Anderson, one of the farm’s co-owners. She says asparagus usually goes on sale at the market near the end of April. By May, the crop is in full swing.
“The asparagus season is eight weeks. People think it only lasts a week or 10 days, but we cut it 56 times during an eight-week period,” Anderson says.
Jefferies Orchard sells giant red Purple Passion and green varieties. Spinach, another cool-season crop, is also ready in April, and followed by rhubarb and strawberries in May.
Spring also means a succession of fresh produce for chef Julianne Glatz, owner of the RealCuisine cooking school. First there’s baby lettuce and then sweet radishes, which, like lettuce, love the cool spring weather. (“Once it gets hot, so do they,” she says.)
“I really do use ingredients when they are in season. This is not to say that I don’t ever buy out-of-season berries and lettuce, but I really do use copious quantities of vegetables in season,” Glatz says.
“When I was a kid, when a vegetable was in season, we had it pretty much every day.”
Glatz is just one of many local chefs who savor spring produce and use it in their culinary creations.
“My recipe for simple spring meals would be to use the best seasonal ingredients and prepare them with minimal interference from the cook, let their natural flavors shine,” she says.
Try making a springtime dish or two at home to celebrate the season.
Jefferies Orchard is located at 1016 Jefferies Rd.; 217-487-7582, 217-487-7401, or 217-487-7845. Call ahead to verify produce availability.
This one-dish meal is a family favorite, says Ruth Jefferies Anderson, one of the owners of Jefferies Orchard, who prepares it at least 20 times during the asparagus season.
For a single serving: Start with one slice of toast. Add a slice of ham, lightly browned in a skillet. Steam six to 10 stalks of asparagus until crisp but tender and place on top of ham, then top with two soft-poached eggs. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste (you may also add cheese or Hollandaise sauce).
— Recipe courtesy of Jefferies Orchard