June 2019 Update: Tim Dixon, mentioned in this blog post, is no longer producing asparagus for sale.
Yesterday, I paid a visit to Tim Dixon in North Tryon, PEI. Amongst other crops grown on the family farm, Tim grows a small acreage of asparagus which he markets to Island restaurants and also sells at the farm gate.
Below is a photo of an asparagus spear just about ready to be harvested.
Tim has been growing asparagus since 2000 and presently has acreage that yields between 500-700 pounds of this spring vegetable annually. I asked Tim why he decided to grow asparagus and he tells me he was looking to diversify his crop planting and was also looking for a market niche.
There are several varieties of asparagus but the bulk of Tim’s crop is the Jersey Giant variety. The asparagus is planted in springtime and is grown from crowns planted 1 foot deep in the rich red soil not far from the Tryon River. It usually takes a couple of years for the asparagus from a crown to be fully ready to be harvested.
Despite its Mediterranean origins and liking heat, Tim says asparagus is a hardy plant that only requires a light discing in the spring, a coating of manure, and some weed control. Tim says winter kill is not an issue for asparagus and a crown will generally produce spears for about 15 years.
Asparagus is one of the first vegetables of spring on PEI. Harvesting usually begins around Victoria Day in mid-May and continues until the end of June/first of July. When the spears are 6”-8” tall, Tim hand-picks them by snapping the spears off the stock, not cutting them. He tells me that the rule of thumb for harvesting asparagus is to pick for one week in the first year after planting, then 2 weeks the next, 3 weeks in year 3, up to 6 weeks of harvesting for mature asparagus.
Tim says the local community is very supportive and neighbours are amongst his best customers. On the farm, he sells both 1-pound and 2-pound bags of fresh asparagus. I asked him if he knew how his neighbours were preparing the asparagus and he says, typically, many steam or sauté the spears.
A standard-sized portion serving is 5 spears. Asparagus plates well because of its long, slender, vivid green spears and pointed flower heads that can range in color from dark green to tints of deep purple. It adds presentation, texture, and flavour to a meal. Asparagus has an earthy, unique taste and pairs well with poultry, seafood, and pasta. There are endless ways to prepare asparagus. One of my favourite ways to prepare asparagus is to mist it with a good quality olive oil, sprinkle it with freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and finely grated parmesan cheese and then barbeque it in a veggie basket over the open flame.
For maximum freshness, this vegetable is best used within 2-3 days of picking; however, asparagus will last up to near a week if stored in an open-ended plastic bag in the refrigerator. Wrap the woody ends of the spears in a damp paper towel to prolong their freshness. Be sure to trim off the woody ends before cooking.
My feature recipe today for asparagus is very simple. I tossed the spears with a light drizzle of Liquid Gold’s Arbequina extra virgin olive oil. Make sure you use a high quality olive oil for this dish.
For each serving I used a super-thin slice of prosciutto onto which I carefully spread a thin layer of spiced garlic and herb soft goat cheese. Be very gentle and careful with this step as prosciutto is very delicate and breaks apart easily.
Bundle together five spears and place them on the prosciutto slice. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.
Gently wrap the prosciutto around the asparagus spears.
Transfer each bundle to a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake at 375F for about 15 minutes.
I served the asparagus bundles with an almond-crusted stuffed chicken breast and duchess potatoes.
The Dixon Farm is located at 140 North Tryon Cross Road in North Tryon, PEI. To make arrangements to buy fresh Island asparagus, visit the farm or contact Tim Dixon by phone at 902-432-4771 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to visit Tim’s website to learn more about the Dixon Farm.
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