Having a cookout? Bring out the asparagus. That’s increasingly the word in the Midwest where the vegetable is reported to be topping many customers’ grocery lists in stores in states across the region.
It seems that two forces are coming together to create what some might call a perfect asparagus storm. The storm, in this case however, is a beneficial and nutritious one.
Asparagus also is favored as a vegetarian addition to a cookout or barbecue. On the other hand, a bumper harvest is feeding the growing demand for asparagus. A combination of ideal weather conditions and good farming practices have combined to establish harvesting records in Michigan, the main source of the vegetable in the Midwest. Customers are responding by buying asparagus in record amounts.
Asparagus has become so popular in the Midwest that Meijer, a retailer based in Grand Rapids, Mich., reports that it is seeing twice as much of the vegetable than usual in shopping carts in the 257 grocery stores and supermarkets that it operates in six Midwestern states. The demand is so great that the chain expects to sell more than 2 million pounds of asparagus this summer.
Normally asparagus season starts in early May, but cooler weather this year delayed the start of the harvesting of the crop. The delay was beneficial, however, as it gave growers additional time to prepare the harvest, to mow and to fertilize the fields. As a result, the start of the bumper crop hit the stores on Memorial Day holiday weekend when shoppers were out in greater numbers than usual.
Customers’ response is big
Customers from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Kentucky took advantage of the late season in a major way, says Scott Calandra, a produce buyer at Meijer. They have been encouraged by local growers who have provided some of the freshest asparagus that is available, he says.
The retailer works with more than 200 local growers in the Midwest to ensure that the distance and time from the fields to the checkout counter are as short as possible, Calandra adds. As a result customers in the stores have been snapping up stalks that were harvested only a day or two previously. In addition, the chain works with local growers to ensure that the harvests are sustainable. In 2020 people forced to stay indoors by the pandemic cooked at home more than they had done before, says Calandra. As a result, they searched for healthier vegetables to add to their tables. Asparagus was one of those vegetables.
In 2021 families are reconnecting with friends and other family members, particularly by gathering outdoors and enjoying cookouts together. As a result, he expects, customers will continue enjoying the benefits of the large Michigan harvest for many months.
How to store asparagus
After you buy asparagus, Calandra suggests, you should cover the ends of the spears with a paper towel that is damp. After that, place them inside a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator.
When you are ready to eat them, wash the stalks in cool water and cut or snap a half-inch off the bottom of the stalks.
You should not discard the lower ends of the stalks that you have cut off. They can be frozen and, when needed, added to soup stock.
Beneficial to health
Best when eaten fresh, asparagus, which is rich in nutrients, is said to be a great aid in digestion because it is rich in fiber. It also benefits cardiac health by cutting the risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
The vegetable is rich in vitamins C, E and A. It is especially rich in vitamin K, which helps to prevent blood clotting and aids in bone health. The potassium in asparagus can help reduce blood pressure.
In addition, asparagus is a good source of antioxidants that may cut the risk of developing chronic disease. Another benefit is that asparagus is said to be able to help in weight loss.
Recipes for asparagus
There are may popular ways to serve asparagus in a cookout. Give this grilled asparagus recipe a try.
Asparagus spears also can be wrapped in cheese and grilled until the cheese is melted or wrapped in bacon before being placed on the grill.