< Vegetables



No vegetable inspired a more conservative handling in the kitchen during the 1800s than the asparagus. It was invariably boiled, mostly in water, sometimes milk. Roasted asparagus did not appear on menus until after the turn of the 20th century. To eat the vegetable raw did not occur to chefs. So whether the recipe announced the vegetable as being fried, or part of a salad, or pickled, the first step was invariably a boil. Cooks did experiment with texture, pureeing asparagus in soups, using small boiled bits as vegetable aggregate in puddings, or presenting it tender and whole. Less imagination was expended on sauces. When the 19th century commenced, butter and vinegar, were the favorite dressings; as the century matured, cream sauce became popular. As the century waned, Hollandaise, became the refined choice. While white, blanched, asparagus enjoyed favor in the city markets, its price frequently did not cover the expense in labor to produce it, so green asparagus dominated farm production in every region throughout the century.

Wild asparagus grows in many locales on the earth. Its cultivation began in several places in antiquity. The ancient Romans attributed the domestication of the plant to Cato the elder, the great agriculturalist of the republic. As with most ancient culinary plants, a number of medical benefits attached to it in the popular mind, particularly as a remedy to urinary disorders and kidney stones. It ranked among the favorite products of the garden for Romans, beloved particularly by Augustus Caesar. The English believed it native to their island, and cultivated it throughout the medieval and early modern eras. Asparagus was always cultivated from seed, broadcast on sandy loam. One year of growth indicated which plants would be hardy; these were transplanted into beds trenched to the depth of two feet. Much of the 18th and 19th century discussion of asparagus farming dealt with how the beds should be manured. All agreed that compost or dung had to be mixed into the soil for the plant to thrive. The traditional planting time was in March, but the demand for the vegetable proved so avid that year-round cultivation was attempted to keep the market supplied. Asparagus beds were invariably arranged in rows, and if the farmer desired to blanch the stalks, the rows would be mounded up to keep the sunlight from hitting the stalk. In American they were intercropped with lettuce, radishes, and cabbages, with the last proving the most congenial partner. Because of great Spanish success in cultivating the plant near seashores, an agricultural fashion for salting asparagus beds exploded in the 1830s; salting the beds made the vegetables “much more palable and tender.” Growing asparagus required patience for a farmer, since the first full crop would not come until the fourth year of cultivation. Subsistence farmers, consequently, never took up the vegetable, because it meant parcels of land not generating income or food for several years. Yet the public craving for the vegetable, which ranked just behind peas as the favorite spring comestible, was so great and the price so solid, that middling farmers within easy carting of cities maintained eight to ten acre plots to supply the market. With careful management a bed might last 15 years, though 12 was the usual exhaustion time.

Giant Ulm    History

a popular German variety, large and superior

New Giant    History

An old favorite, sprouts large, purple

Lesher's Mammoth    History

Said by the grower (Briggs & Brothers) to be the largest and most tender variety under cultivation

Conover's New Colossal    History

Vigorous grower, sprouts extra large, of rapid growth, frequently sending up fifteen to thirty sprouts from a single plant, deep green color.

Oyster Bay    History

the favorite market variety.

Moore's New Cross Bred    History

New, just introduced (1883), has taken first prize at the Massachusetts

Giant     History

an old and popular variety, producing green or purple shoots according to the soil it is grown in, very hardy, but not so large or the plants as compact as the Conover's Colossal.

Defiance    History

Of a rich color and excels every other variety thus far known in tenderness, and has no superior in flavor. It will be large enough to cut a year sooner than other varieties.

Grayson’s Giant    History

—“the best,” sprouts very large and fine.

To boil Asparagus     History

First cut the whit ends off about six inches from the head, and scrape them from the green part downward very clean, as you scrape them, throw them into a pan of clear water, and after a little soaking, tie them up in small even bundles, when your water boils, put them in, and boil them up quick; but by over boiling they will los their heads; cut a slice of bread for a taste, and toast it brown on both sides; when your asparagus is done, take it up carefully; dip the toast in the asparagus water, and lay it in the bottom of your dish; then lay the heads of the asparagus on it, with the white ends outwards; pour a little melted butter over the heads; cut an orange into small pieces, and stick them between for garnish.

Asparagus for Garnish     History

Half boil the asparagus, and take it off to drain; cut it into small bits, and fry it in butter. Garnish a dish of veal cutlets, or mutton chop, with the asparagus, laid around the dish in little lumps.

Stewed Asparagus     History

Use it as soon as possible after cutting; there are several ways of cooking this, each of which is good. Discard all not brittle enough to break easily, tie it in small bunches, and boil it in very little water, slightly salted, until tender; take off the strings, put it in a covered dish, add butter to the water sufficient to make rich gravy, and thicken it with very little flour, and pour the gravy over the asparagus; be careful to lay the heads all one way.

Asparagus dressed like Green Peas     History

This is a convenient mode of dressing asparagus, when it is too small and green to make a good appearance plainly boiled. Cut the points so far only as they are perfectly tender, in bits of equal size, not more than the third of an inch in length; was them very clean, and throw them into plenty of boiling water, with the usual quantity of salt and a morsel of soda. When they are tolerably tender, which will be in from 10 to 12 minutes, drain them well, and spread them on a clean cloth; fold it over them, wipe them gently, and when they are quite dry put them into a clean stew-pan with a good slice of butter, which should be just dissolved before the asparagus is added; stew them in this over a brisk fire, shaking them often, for 8 or 10 minutes; dredge in about a small tea-spoonful of flour, and add half that quantity of white sugar; then pour in boiling water to nearly cover the asparagus, and boil it rapidly until but little liquid remains; stir in the beaten yolks of 2 eggs help the asparagus high in a dish, and serve it very hot. The sauce should adhere entirely to the vegetable.

Asparagus Loaves     History

Having scraped the stalks of three bundles of fine, large asparagus, (laying it, as you proceed, in a pan of cold water,) tie it up again in bunches, put them into a pot with a great deal of boiling water, and a little salt, and boil them about twenty minutes, or till quite tender. Than take out the asparagus, and drain it. Cut off the green tops of two-thirds of the asparagus, and on the remainder leave about two inches of the white stalk; this remaining asparagus must be kept warm. Put the tops into a stew-pan with a pint of cream, or rich milk, sufficient to cover them well; adding three table-spoonfuls of fresh butter, rolled in flour, half a grated nutmeg, and the well-beaten yolks of three eggs. Set the stew-pan over hot coals, and stir the mixture till it comes to a boil. Then immediately remove it. Have ready some tall fresh rolls or penny loaves; cut the tops carefully off, in a nice circular or oval piece, and then scoop out the inside of the rolls, and fill them with the stewed asparagus while it is hot. Make small holes very nicely in the tops or lids. Fit the lids again on the rolls, and stick in the holes (of which you must make as many as you can) the remaining asparagus, that has had the bit of stalk left on for this purpose. Sent them to table warm, as side-dishes.

Fried Asparagus     History

When cooked, make a thin paste with two tablespoonfuls of flour, two beaten eggs, and water; dip them in that paste, and lay them in a frying pan in which you have hot butter, and on a sharp fire; toss them gently, and serve, when you see the paste around them well fried.

Asparagus Omelette     History

Steam some fresh cut tender asparagus, and chop fine; mix with the yolks of five eggs and the whites of three, well beaten, and two tablespoonfuls of rich cream. Fry, and serve quite hot.

White Asparagus Soup     History

3 lbs veal. The Knuckle is the best. 3 bunches asparagus, as well bleached as you can procure. 1 gallon of water. Cut off the hard green stem, and put half of the tender heads of asparagus into the water with the meat. Boil in a closely covered pot for three hours, until the meat is in rags and the asparagus dissolved. Strain the liquor and return to the pot, with the remaining half of the asparagus heads. Let this boil for twenty minutes more, and add, betfore taking up, a cup of sweet milk (cream is better) in which has been stirred a tablespoon of rice-flour, arrow-root, or corn-starch. When it has fairly boiled up, serve without further straining, with small squares of toast in the tureen. Season with salt and pepper.

Green Asparagus Soup     History

3 lbs. veal—cut into small pieces. ½ lb. salt pork. 3 bunches asparagus. 1 gallon water. Cut the entire stalk of the asparagus into pieces an inch long, and when the meat has boiled one hour, add half of the vegetable to the liquor in the pot. Boil two hours longer and strain, pressing the asparagus pulp very hard to extract all the green coloring. Add the other half of the asparagus—(the heads only, which should be kept in cold water until you are ready for them), and boil twenty minutes more. Then proceed as with the asparagus white soup, omitting the milk, thickening, and salt. The pork will supply the latter seasoning.

Asparagus Salad, Plain     History

Prepare one pound of Asparagus tops by boiling. Cut them one inch in length. When cooked and drained put them into a salad bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Add some chopped parsely or chives, vinegar, and olive oil, Mix it carefully, not breaking the tops.

Asparagus Pickles     History

Fill a stone pot with asparagus, make a pickle of water and have it salt enough to bear an egg; pour it on hot and keep it covered tight. Before using, put the asparagus in cold water for two hours. Then boil and butter and send to table. If they are used for pickles take them out of the brine, boil them and cover them with vinegar.