In February (March some years), bundles of asparagus in fake-turf-lined bins at Safeway invaded my mother’s vegetable consciousness. Few things had the power to pull Barb from her freezer or canned food pantry, with its precise rows of Mexi-corn and LeSeur petits pois. But asparagus had something mesmerizing—the irresistible force of tradition, memories of spring lust, whatever. And at exactly the time when the subtle shift from a California winter to a California spring registers as an inner urge, a condition unaffected by weather alone.
The first Delta asparagus—one of the few foods whose lofty price Barb never questioned—left no doubt about what season it was. Peeled, boiled stalks steaming on the plate, next to a lump of Best Foods straight from the jar. For luck, my brother and I would make a wish before chomping the first spear, which bobbed lazily when you picked it up. And while I’m pretty sure first asparagus always tastes sweet, I swear a measure of sucrose accrued in the cellular structure of those stalks from anticipation, in some complex alchemy of want. —John Birdsall