Asparagus for Dinner

It is really a wonder that city people can get any pleasure out of eating. Yet in the spring they probably do hail the thought of asparagus for dinner with a degree of pleasurable anticipation. When the housekeeper realizes that this vegetable is in the market, she goes to the telephone and orders what will come to her marked ‘S grass.’ She goes through the hollow form of asking, ‘Is it nice and fresh?’ and the grocer goes through the equally hollow form of replying, ‘Yes, madam.’ Then she hangs up the receiver, conscious that if it is not nice and fresh, plenty of salt and pepper and butter will make it appear so when it comes to the table.

Or the housewife may go marketing for herself and see the bunches of asparagus standing in shallow trays of water, the stalks respectably tied together with fibre, and each the exact match of its neighbor. She may break a stalk to see if it is tender, and the clerk may assure her that it is ‘absolutely fresh, cut this morning.’

Having a purely commercial and gastronomical relation to the asparagus, neither is fired by that phrase; but never again can I be told that asparagus was cut this morning without in imagination seeing the bed from which it was cut. There is a romance about such a bed that is wholly lost upon the city dweller. It has been lost upon me for far too many years; but now, at the staid age of forty, I have come into an asparagus-bed.

One very early spring Sunday, strolling around our newly acquired farm, Paul and I discovered, sticking up through the winter mulch, the lilac-colored stalks, and we exclaimed in chorus, ‘Asparagus for dinner to-morrow.’ Even then I did not know all the rapture that phrase was to embody. ‘ From garden to skillet ’ is my motto; so, putting the water on to boil, I took a long thin knife made very sharp for the purpose, and a shallow basket, and went forth.

My asparagus bed lies ‘eastward in Eden,’ with several rows of pear and cherry trees to the west and the newly ploughed garden to the south. Off to the north stretches a valley, with an alluring road winding past red and yellow houses, good brown ploughed fields, and greening meadows. Beyond the valley hills rise, tier on tier, in everpaling tints of purple and blue, till they merge into the dim outlines of the White Mountains, receding or advancing as the sun and the clouds play upon them. It is hard to keep my mind on even such enchanting things as asparagus-tips, invitingly pink and green.

Holding a tip lightly between the fingers of one hand, while with the long sharp knife deftly severing the stalk well underground, would be joy enough; but it is only a small part of the delight involved in the process. Over my head, so near as to make collision seem inevitable, skim lovely blue-satin swallows, their orange-pink breasts flashing as they dip; from the nearby garden fat robins pull luscious angle-worms, bracing themselves for the effort; on the peak of a shed-roof a song sparrow pours all the joy of life into a torrent of melody; while from the orchard comes the intimate, emotional song of bluebirds, house-hunting. One day a less familiar note drew my eyes to the pear tree at the end of the row, and there sat a scarlet tanager, making a most dramatic splash of color against the white blossoms. And over all comes the soft, sweet ‘air from Hesperides blown thro’ the cherry trees.’ All this and much more — blue sky, ever-changing tints of budding spring, fragrance of a hundred growing things — is released by the phrase ‘Asparagus for dinner’ when one has one’s own bed.

Yes, it is a wonder city people find any pleasure in eating.