We wait for the e-mail from the McCormack family. Then we know it’s spring.
For when it comes, that means the asparagus is ready at McCormack Farms, and spring truly has arrived.
You may have been waiting, too—for that cheery sign at the end of the lane at a farm near your home, or that bushel in the market at which you shop, or that missive from a CSA. It’s word that the first crops of the Garden State’s growing season are ripe and ready. And thus begins the cycle of bounty that dictates, as it has for decades now for professional chefs, what home cooks will be basing their menus and meals on.
I’m a devotee of the produce grown by the McCormack family at their farm on Tindall Road in the New Monmouth section of Middletown Township. The same family has been farming here since 1880, Leah McCormack pointed out just the other day.
The McCormacks’ season starts with asparagus, then segues to strawberries; sometimes, you can buy both asparagus and strawberries at the roadside stand that operates under a green-and-white striped tent. That’s a true jackpot.
Starting in high summer—figure, late July—and continuing into the fall, the jackpot rings out each day the farm stand is open (Monday through Saturday, from 1 to 6 pm, or until sold out of fresh produce; weather permitting), with selections that may include tomatoes both traditional and heirloom, raspberries and blackberries, sweet corn, bell peppers and hot peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, beets, okra, string beans, summer and winter squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. What’s sold on the stand is what’s grown on the farm; nothing is brought in from anywhere else.
Right now there is asparagus, both skinny and thick stalks, separated and placed into bags that allow customers to get exactly the size they want. I never can choose, so I get both. Every year, I have an inner argument: Which is more resolutely asparagus-y, which is slightly sweeter, which is, in other words, better?
Each year, my argument goes unresolved as the last of the asparagus is picked, purchased, prepared and eaten.
I am, at this point in the asparagus season, definitely favoring grilling my McCormack asparagus. Use your outdoor grill or a stove-top grill pan; the idea is not to use water in the process. My thinking is that water dilutes the flavor of the asparagus, while a searing heat enhances it. But friends I respect steam their asparagus and others blanch or outright boil.
We could debate this. My belief is that if you buy it fresh picked, prepare it that day, you’re going to have the ultimate in asparagus eating. Unquestionably.
What am I doing with asparagus this season? Tossing the grilled and cut-up stalks into risotto, sometimes with peas, sometimes with mushrooms. Giving the asparagus a shot of tiny-diced bacon or topping it with a chop of hard-cooked eggs mixed with minced onions, capers, black pepper and sea salt and bound by a sprinkle of red-wine vinegar. Or doing something novel, such as flecking it with dried salmon flakes that I buy in jars in the seafood refrigerator cases at Mitsuwa in Edgewater.
Fresh asparagus also can be shaved raw into salads or used in stir-fries. Or, you can cook it and puree it, thin with liquids and make a creamy soup.
You can take a bunch of stalks, wrap them prettily with bright ribbon, and use as a centerpiece on your dining table. You can do that. But your best use for this harbinger of spring is to eat it the day it was picked at your favorite asparagus-growing farm.
McCormack Farms, 119 Tindall Road in Middletown. 732-671-0162 or e-mail:[email protected]. The farm is not certified organic, but the family does not use herbicides, pesticides or fungicides. Please note that although the farm stand generally is open Monday through Saturday from 1 to 6 pm, there typically are gaps between seasons. Meaning, when asparagus finishes, and then the strawberries finish as well, the farm stand may not be open for a period of weeks until the summer produce is ready. Use the e-mail address above to get on the e-announcement list.Click here to leave a comment