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Asparagus cultivation dates back to early Greek and Roman civilizations, but our local fondness got jumping in the 1920s when Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley showed its fertile self with such prodigious harvests that the town of Hadley was crowned the “Asparagus Capital of the World.”
Some describe this member of the lily family’s flavor as nutty, grassy, and earthy; we say it tastes just like asparagus.
Choose firm, bright-green spears with closed and dry tips. Thick or thin (thicker stalks are generally more tender), peeled or not, is totally up to you, but you’ll have better cooking results if you choose one or the other — this way the spears will cook at the same rate. Some eat asparagus raw, but we prefer it steamed, roasted, grilled, or sauted. Either way, this local favorite is in season now, is about 4 calories per stalk, and is packed with gobs of vitamins, folate, potassium, and fiber.
Today, there are more than 200 acres of Hadley farmland devoted to growing asparagus, as well as good ol’ church suppers featuring “Hadley grass.”
“People who stop here send our asparagus all over the country,” says Hadley grower James Gnatek of Alligator Brook Farm. “It’s gone to Hawaii, California, all over. It’s simply the highest quality in the world.”