There are two ways to fresh asparagus – I am taking it for granted that we all can accept that buying fresh and local is the number one secret and also that we have all opened the crisper to find 4 or 5 day old asparagus wilting and dried in the fridge and thought it was game over. Don’t be too hasty to throw it out!
Before we reveal our secret I thought it would be pertinent to share a piece of logic a local farmer shared with me that was so obvious it had eluded me (that could be a way of me flattering myself by pretending I wasn’t thick enough to have had the thought myself of course). He asked me why grocery stores leave asparagus in water – I responded that it was to “keep them fresh.” He asked if that is why they watered their other vegetables in the fridge (beyond the fact that it also looks fresher and more appetizing) and I concurred. He smiled and told me that was right. He then asked me why they cared about the vegetables being fresh. I suppose I had never thought that far – surely they must care about me as an individual, no? While I’m sure they do, he had a different theory.
The difference between fresh and going stale for many vegetables (such as asparagus, lettuce, many herbs) is the amount of water they store in their cell walls. They are capable of absorbing some water as they lay in wait to be purchased. Watering them keeps them fresh and retaining more water. Water adds weight to the vegetable that a stale vegetable would not have. In other words, fresh food weighs more than stale. And most leafy food is sold by the gram or ounce and thus it is in their best interest to sell us fresh. Stunningly obvious and perhaps I am the only one who missed this fact but it certainly has made me think over the last few weeks (especially when I see a store selling stale food, effectively for less profit margin).
So let’s assume we bought fresh and took home the asparagus before letting it dry out a little (the drier it is, the less likely this will work though it’s saved some pretty dismal produce in my time). Add a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of water (a 5-10% solution) and let the asparagus soak (roots down) for a while. My preferred method is in a coffee cup – like seen below.
At the end of the day, this is no substitute for real fresh (asparagus actually loses much of it’s quality in the first 24 hours after harvest) but when in a jam and avoiding losing vegetables this is a handy trick. Even if your asparagus doesn’t appear to be dried, it is my experience that this can take stocks which are a few days old and make them much more tender than otherwise as the fibrous core becomes enhances with a higher water content. This veg is as much as 4% sugar when it first comes out of the field which is why the addition of the sugar to the water is not as foreign as it may sound at first glance.