I grew up hunting for wild asparagus with my mom. We also foraged for other foods, especially morel mushrooms, but we always foraged for those as a family. The hunt for wild asparagus for some reason was always just me and Mom. Perhaps it was because I was the youngest of four and there were many occasions when I would be in the car with her alone. You can imagine when all four of us were in the car it was a hectic environment and not one that lends itself to the concentration it takes to spot the almost invisible wild stalks of asparagus.
My memories of hunting wild asparagus involve a high-speed careening car and huge quantities of dust from said car as my head hung out the window searching for wild asparagus. You see, hunting asparagus was not a quaint walk in the woods with me sweetly holding my mother's hand. It was a busy mother of 4 driving a gas-guzzling beast of a car 70 miles an hour down a country gravel road, maximizing her efforts by foraging for dinner along the way.
Shelley's Mom Irene
Wild asparagus generally grow in ditches or along fences, at least in Iowa where I grew up. It also seems to like to be near water or a moist environment, not right at the bank of a stream but close. Wild asparagus grow much taller that you might expect; it can easily be knee high or taller. One stalk I found last year was about 2 feet tall and over an inch around.
Though a lot of people think fat asparagus is tough, the texture really has more to do with the age of the plant… the older the plant, the larger the stems. I have never found it effects the tenderness. Asparagus regularly grows in the ditch with weeds and bramble so it gets mixed in easily and makes it very hard to see, so be prepared for a true hunt!
Shelley's wife Jennifer hunting wild asparagus
My brother Leland and I have a tradition of morel mushroom hunting around Mother’s Day. Usually if the weather conditions are right, that is just about the time they start popping. If you happen to get lucky and find an abundance of these coveted mushrooms, I wrote a guide on how to dry and preserve morel mushrooms.
We always cooked the morels for Mom as a special treat. Last year when I was back in Iowa for Mother’s Day, we did find some morels but not a ton, so I had the idea that I would take my mom and my wife Jennifer out to hunt asparagus to supplement our morel meal. I had not done this since I was a kid, so it was a special treat. My mom had been very ill for a long time. In fact, she passed away last Christmas Eve, so this was our last time to forage together. She certainly had not lost the touch. She hung her head out of the car window, and she could still spot that asparagus 20 feet away!
I cooked up some morel mushroom and asparagus crepes, which were beyond delicious! You treat wild asparagus just as you would the kind you buy in the grocery stores or at farmers' markets, I do find that it is rarely dirty, perhaps because it tends to be taller and therefore away from the earth. I simply sautéed the morels in a little butter with some shallot over a medium-high heat, added some heavy cream, salt and pepper. I sautéed the asparagus in a separate pan for a couple of minutes, just till tender. Put the morels and cream inside the crepe and topped with the asparagus.
If you need a refresher on how to make crepes, we have a video:
The faces in this photo of my mom and Leland while eating the crepes are of sheer joy.
If you'd like to learn how to prepare all of that wild asparagus you'll find, don't miss The Chopping Block's April in Paris hands-on cooking class which features Asparagus with Sauce Gribiche. That sauce is a hard-boiled egg and mustard vinaigrette that goes perfectly with the asparagus.
We have many other spring-themed cooking classes coming up in April, so check out our class calendars and get foraging and cooking!