How to hunt wild asparagus corms

by | Jun 5, 2012

Yesterday, a friend invited us “out the Perup” to dig up some asparagus corms. Due east of Manjimup, the Perup is where people can learn more about, and help look after rare, biodiverse flora and fauna (check out the Perup Nature’s Gues House). There’s also a lovely local apple from out that way, that was named Perup Pride for a while. I used it when making sauce with Dorothy Ipsen and her descendants, seeing she spent much of her life out that way. But people bought the Perup Pride more when it got renamed Gala Supreme, go figure. 

Eearly pioneering families like the Muirs, Ipsens and my mob, the Gibletts, first came to clear land and start farms out this way, axing one tree from thick bush at a time. My friend’s farm was an Ipsen farm but has long since been sold off. but the asparagus planting remains, in a small paddock cordoned-off from livestock. The seeds blow into nearby bush from the sadly neglected patch, and we hoped to find some self-sown plants to dig up.

Indeed we did, bounty! Big corms – with dangling roots in tact – should be kept covered and transplanted as soon as possible. Don’t let them dry out. I’m told if we plant these corms in fertile soil, in late autumn, we may get our first spears the coming spring. Sometimes it takes two seasons for the corms to start producing well, but after that, a well-maintained patch will keep you in asparagus for about 25 years. Not a bad return on a few hours work on a fine autumn afternoon.

I couldn’t resist a quick look into the history of this delicately flavoured veggie favourite. There’s plenty of mention of big names. Our humble asparagus was being enjoyed around 25,000 years ago in Egypt; much later the Romans froze it in the Alps for the Feast of Epicurius; Louis XIV grew it in special greenhouses, and it was served to Madame de Pompidour. It’s almost as well known for its flavour as its unique after-effect,  for which we’ll resort to the talents of Marcel Proust to describe:

[Asparagus] transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume

Thanks to the proliferation of international trade and industrial agriculture, many of us now have the option of enjoying this once fleeting, seasonal delicacy year-round. But where is the health, or magic in that? We might be best to avoid ill-conceived convenience of imported produce on the supermarket shelf, and instead, claim the gift of seasonal, backyard grown food.

If you don’t know where you might hunt asparagus corms in your local area, ask at your local community garden or farmers markets where you can get some. Or, grow it from seed. Or if you’re not a gardener, keep your eyes open in spring for the first, tender spears in stores. The season is short, but don’t worry, soon after the asparagus are gone, your momentary heartbreak can be soothed by the appearance of cherries, and other bountiful summer crops.

Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany
Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stuebe
file source – wikimedia commons