Spring Asparagus Spears and Morel Mushrooms

Spring asparagus spears and morel mushrooms, such as these harvested and gathered at Times columnist Phil Potempa's family farm, are experiencing reduced yields due to unseasonably cool weather.

After last month's column about asparagus, I've had plenty of reader questions and shared stories about these favored and flavorful green spears of spring.

Reader Ed Mosser, of Valparaiso, is one of the readers who contacted me about growing his own asparagus patch.

"Great article on asparagus, Phil. I have a couple of questions. Will the asparagus be delayed this year or will we see a reduced crop? Also, of my 10 crowns of asparagus starts, only four have produced stalks so far this season. Should I be concerned about long-term conditions of these crowns? Lastly, I planted this patch two years ago in my small backyard, and this season, we plan on eating our harvest. Should we eat all stalks or 'harvest lightly.' Thanks, Ed Mosser, Valparaiso"

Thank you, Ed, for your questions. In addition to my own family's insight, my asparagus column from last month included the experiences of reader Ralph Knapp, an asparagus farmer from DeMotte.

It's not a surprise when I warn that our continuing weather trend combination of extreme warm and then cold temperatures doesn't do any favors for asparagus or any planted crops looking to break through the soil.

Just as we are confused about whether to wear a jacket during the course of the day when facing our recent climate of "weather or not," the plant kingdom responds the same when bracing for emerging from the more controlled surrounds of underground.

Our asparagus pickings are once again somewhat reduced, and the spears are more slender and less formed. However, taste nor tenderness has not been sacrificed. As for your fear that some of your asparagus starts have yet to yield, you should not worry just yet. Planting an asparagus patch takes patience, since the root-stock requires time to become "established" before signs of growth and eventual harvest. The general rule is two to four years, so give your "shy crowns" at least one more season before you count them out with concerns, especially the precarious weather of last spring and this year. And for your final question, yes, as a general recommendation, cut sparingly for inaugural harvest, since as I explained earlier, the roots take time to establish and allowing some spears to "sprout and go to seed" certainly helps.

In addition to compromised asparagus yields, we've also struggled with our favorite fun hunt of spring at the farm: gathering spring morel mushrooms.

My oldest brother, Tom, and my dad, Chester, know all of the perfect places for finding these delicate and delicious fungal wonders. But while we've had plenty of rain, the lack of warm nights hasn't made the hunt very abundant. With their distinct "honeycomb cone" appearance, these mushrooms are easy to spot. However, as with eating any wild mushroom, always use caution and consult before consuming. We like morels with scrambled eggs, in gravies and sauces or simply creamed and served on toast.

Given this week's return to cool and cloudy weather, I'm sharing a wonderful asparagus soup recipe along with a favorite bacon-asparagus-mushroom combo, the latter which is a delicious breakfast side served-up with eggs at the Knapp Asparagus Farm.

Asparagus and Potato Soup

2 cups chicken broth

3-4 potatoes, peeled and cubed

1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup Colby cheese, cubed

3/4 cup crumbled bacon (optional)

DIRECTIONS: Heat broth in a soup pot and add potatoes, asparagus, onion and salt and cook on medium heat until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and milk, adding a little of the hot broth to temper and then slowly add and combine with the cooking vegetables. Lastly, add in cheese and bacon (if desired) and dish into warm bowls and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Asparagus and Mushroom Bacon Blend

2 pounds fresh asparagus, cut into pieces

1 pound bacon

8 ounces of fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper

DIRECTIONS: Fry bacon in skillet. Remove bacon to a plate and add onion to cook in bacon drippings. Add asparagus to cooked onion and continue to cook until asparagus is tender. Add mushrooms and garlic pepper, along with bacon and cook to combine favors. Additional collected bacon grease can be drained off before serving hot. Makes 6 servings.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.