We have several reasons to be excited about the May 11th Janesville Farmers Market. We will have our friends from the Janesville Renaissance Fair in front of Firehouse Park with their fun costumes and artifacts. Janesville Transit System will also be there to offer Bike on Bus training as part of Bike to Work Week. Just look for the big city bus parked on the 100 Block of Main Street. Of course our favorite fresh baked goods will still be there, as well as assorted brats, jams, cheese, honey, eggs, meat, kettle corn, maple syrup and un-popped popcorn. For your yard and garden, you will find hanging baskets, garden plants, herbs, flowers, bird houses and yard ornaments. Craft lovers will find crocheted and sewn items, soaps and body care products, birdseed wreaths, pottery, lamps and more!
Still, it will always be the fresh produce that brings the most people down to the market. Thanks to some warm days and clever farmers, I can promise that we will have a nice variety of spring produce at our second market of the season. You can expect to see Asparagus, Rhubarb, Spring Onions, Lettuce, Endive, Cress, Arugula, Mushrooms, Kale, Swiss Chard, Radishes and even Yellow Cherry Tomatoes. Of all of these early season vegetables, I think asparagus is the most anticipated. Here is a little asparagus history and a recipe to get your mouth watering.
As a member of the lily family, Asparagus is related to garlic and onions. It’s a perennial plant that produces for several years once it is established. Young stalks may grow as much as ten inches in a day. For tender, edible asparagus, they must be harvested before they start to form ferns and go to seed. Humans have been growing asparagus for over 2,500 years, starting with the Greeks and Romans. Early colonists brought asparagus to the US, where it can be now be found on farms, prairies and even in roadside ditches. According to Barbara Wood in The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, asparagus is good for female hormones, fertility and lactation. It contains the anticancer substance glutathione as well as rutin for blood vessel health. It’s been used traditionally for gout, rheumatism and edema. Of course, most of us crave it for its unique taste and texture rather than individual nutrients like folic acid, zinc and vitamin E.
Asparagus is easy to prepare and cooks very quickly. Choose stalks that are tender and not limp, with tight heads. To store, wrap the base in a wet paper towel and keep in the refrigerator for up to three days. To wash asparagus, swish the spears around in a bowl of cool water to remove any sand or dirt from the tips. Snap off the tough bottom and discard it or use it to flavor soup stock. You may snap the spears into bite sized pieces or cook them whole. They steam or grill in just a few minutes. For stir-fry, add them near the end of cooking. For the ultimate comfort food, try this creamy asparagus and potato soup!
Creamy Asparagus and Potato Soup
2 Tablespoons Butter or Olive Oil
1 1/2 cup chopped Onions
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried Thyme
2 cups Potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch chunks
2 cups Asparagus stalks, snapped with tops removed and reserved
1 quart Vegetable Broth or Chicken Stock
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
Salt to taste
In a soup pot, saute the chopped onion in the butter or oil until it becomes translucent, about three to five minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaf, potatoes and asparagus stalks. Set aside the asparagus tips for later. Pour in broth or stock to cover the vegetables. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Discard the bay leaf. Puree the soup in a blender or with a hand-held blender. Add the asparagus tips and heat gently until they are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may add water, broth or milk if the soup is too thick. This soup is wonderful served with shredded Wisconsin cheese!