Seasonal Stalks (or Why Asparagus Helps Hope Spring Eternal)

The well-worn asparagus and rhubarb sign has been out at North Sea Farm on Noyac Road for at least 3 weeks.

SAG HARBOR–Thank goodness for the asparagus. Amid this chilly rain, it’s the only edible reminder of spring, and will be for a little while.

Most Long Island strawberry growers are estimating their crops have been set back a week or two. (Luckily, berries will still be around during Eat Drink Local, June 24-30, when they are one of the featured ingredients, along with green garlic and chives, which have also arrived in dishes in the region.)

So, apart from some nascent greens and cellared root crops, the crunchy green stalks are the lone standout at East End farmstands. Asparagus topped with an egg and ham is on the menu at the newly relocated Almond on Main Street in Bridgehampton. It made a brief appearance at the Sag Harbor and Hayground Farmers Markets, although late-arriving shoppers had to go without.

There are other signs that spring has arrived–at least psychologically. Traffic on 27 has thickened. And food and drink businesses are rising to the occasion. Marder’s has launched a cafe to complement its mindblowing nursery stock offerings. Redbar in Southampton is sprouting a sister restaurant, Little Red. The famed Marlin Dip is back at Lucy’s Whey in East Hampton, just in time for Memorial Day. And the town of East Hampton might kill its one-beach-one-food-truck system, opening the East End mobile eating scene to some needed competition (and diversity). And Marilee Foster’s farmstand in Sagaponack, which is reporting a strong asparagus crop, is posting its hours–a level of predictability that must mean folks are serious about business.

Asparagus touches us in different ways. Mark Bittman sang its many praises a few weeks ago (when the California crop arrived in New York). And East End winemakers sipping their spring sauvignon blancs are quick to say how well it goes with asparagus in all its forms.

In the Eating with Clio department, asparagus is a perfect example of seemingly arbitrary kid food preferences–at six months, Clio was an excellent asparagus eater the first asparagus season that came after her birth, as well as last season, but she’s been timid so far this year, sometimes deciding only to eat the pyramidal tips.

Diehard Edible readers might recall we chose that veggie as the covergirl–asparagus plants are primarily female–of our first issue of Edible East End in the spring of 2005. Among a few other covershot candidates (a spring run of stripers, the expanding greenhouses at Satur Farms), asparagus seemed the best symbol of rebirth, the most inspiration for new beginnings. So thank you, asparagus, for giving us faith that the harvest season has begun.

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Brian is the editor in chief of Edible East End, Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. He writes from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his family tend a home garden and oysters. He is also obsessed with ducks, donuts and dumplings.