ASPARAGUS: a native of Europe, which was a favorite vegetable of the ancient Romans. In this country, only the "spears" are eaten but in other parts of the world the seeds have been largely used for coffee—they are still recommended for that pur pose in some parts of Europe—and a fermented spirit is made from the berries.
An asparagus bed will continue to produce for a century, but it is at its best between the third and sixth years. Its commercial productivity is generally limited to fifteen years, as the stalks become smaller and less desirable with age unless fertilization is very heavy. The roots are buried from four to ten inches below the level and the sprouts or spears are cut as soon as they reach the surface or a few inches above it and are then tied in bunches for the market.
The extension of cultivation has resulted in changing asparagus from a vege table almost exclusively for the well-to-do into one within the reach of nearly every body. It is furthermore a vegetable of great adaptability—it can be readily grown all the year round, though the northern winter supply is necessarily somewhat expensive, and is nearly as good canned as fresh.
The two principal market divisions are into the "green," in all sizes and qualities and varying from bright green to purplish ; and the "white," generally more or less tinted with purple and usually in the large size. The white is obtained chiefly by deep planting of the roots or by banking earth up around the shoots, but some special varieties grow nearly white without this assistance. The preference for one or the other is in some sections a matter of fixed local sentiment, and in others is subject to changing fashion. New England and Southern trade prefer the green ; the West and Northwest, the white, and New York vacillates between the two.
In cooking fine fresh asparagus, it is best to stand the bunch on end, leaving about an inch of the tips above the surface of the water. In this way it is possible to cook the spears thoroughly without destroying the appearance of the tips. If the tips are not sufficiently cooked by the steam, the bunch may be laid on its side for a few minutes immediately prior to taking out.