Spring Asparagus
By Susan Olcott

Asparagus is here – the first spring vegetable harvested from local farms. Yes, you can still find plenty of carrots, rutabagas and onions that were stored over the winter. But, asparagus is the first vegetable to poke up in the spring. Asparagus is a strange vegetable, as it is really more of a flower in many ways. In fact, it was once classified as part of the lily family, but now has split from the spring onion group to constitute its own family, Asparagaceae. Asparagus grows wild in many parts of the world, where it can be particularly spindly and woody. But the fresh spring shoots that we get here are delicate and tender.

Earlier this week, I stopped by Fairwinds Farm to happily discover that their first crop of asparagus was for sale. Apparently, it takes about two years to establish a good crop, meaning that the bunches for sale had been planted two years ago. Those plants have been as patient as many of us have been for the weather to finally warm up. Next up, in addition to the seedlings they already have for sale, will be Fairwinds’ first spinach and other greens. And, I’m already excited for berries, which will start showing up at the market mid-June. Fairwinds also sells jams and spreads made from their berries as well as an assortment of grains and beans throughout the year. Their farm, which is both in Topsham and Bowdoinham, is the only farm represented at the Farmer’s Market that is on an easement managed by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT). The part in Topsham is on a beautiful piece of land along the Cathance River. And, you’re probably familiar with the fields in Bowdoinham if you’ve picked berries there.

Now, for a few ideas of what to do with spring’s first harvest – a salad, a spring pasta, and a pickling recipe to store up spring’s flavors for the chilly months of winter.

Asparagus & Pea Salad

Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 bunch asparagus

1 ½ c fresh peas

¼ cup chopped almonds

2 T rice wine vinegar

2 T olive oil

¼ c fresh mint torn into pieces

1. Trim asparagus. Thinly slice on a bias.

  1. Toss with peas, mint, almonds, oil, and vinegar.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Top with more mint and almonds.

Asparagus Primavera

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)

1 bunch asparagus

2 c chopped leeks

1 c milk

¼ c grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving

2 T salt

1 lb fettuccine

A pinch of nutmeg

Fresh ground pepper


  1. Use a vegetable peeler to shave asparagus into ribbons.
  2. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot and add 2 T salt. Cook fettuccine according to instructions for al dente but do no drain yet!
  3. Bring leeks and milk to a simmer in a small saucepan until soft (about 10 minutes).
  4. Put in blender or food processor with Parmesan when cool and blend until smooth.
  5. When pasta is ready, add asparagus to pot and cook 30 seconds. Then drain all.
  6. Add blended mixture to pot and toss pasta to coat.
  7. Sprinkle with nutmeg and pepper and top with remaining Parmesan.

Pickled Asparagus


3 c white vinegar

6 strips lemon zest

1/3 c sugar

2 t mustard seed

2 t kosher salt

1 bunch asparagus


  1. Bring 3 cups water, vinegar, mustard seed, lemon zest, salt and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  2. Divide asparagus between two 1-quart jars.
  3. Divide liquid between jars.
  4. Let cool to room temperature. Cover, and refrigerate 7-10 days.