Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hunting Asparagus

One of the pleasures- the main pleasure- of the farm at this time of year is that we can finally go there again, after the end of winter. We went in December this year, when the ground was covered with 8 inches of snow and the pipes had frozen in the ground which meant hygiene was a bit basic, for a start. This time the sun shone (except for half an hour on Monday evening when a passing storm damped the earth to great aesthetic, but sadly little agricultural, effect). The land is sown partly with corn, and partly with lentils (horse fodder, and they also help to regenerate the soil). The result is a luxurious green, which won't last long. Soon it will all dry to yellow and brown.

The other pleasure specific to this time of year is that mentioned in the title of the post. We hunt asparagus. (Perhaps I should say we hunt for asparagus, as we don't actually stalk them through the undergrowth- except after an especially good lunch, when they learn the art of sliding behind trees at our approach.)

Asparagus grow almost exclusively in the shade of the holm oaks which dot the mountains, competing for that shade with a number of other small plants. They win some, they lose some. The ones we pick are the new shoots, which come up quickly to quite s height, and must be caught just right or they turn to wood, which from the plant's point of view is the purpose of the exercise.

These shoots are green, the best of them tending to purple, and can be boiled, or grilled with salt, or fried with scrambled eggs, and the result is rather good. All a matter of taste, of course.

In any case you can buy them in the market easily and cheaply. The real fun is the thrill of the chase. When searching for asparagus you see the country much more close up than you normally would, and your attention is caught by details that you usually miss. The colour and size of spiders is more varied than you might think, and the number of things that can bite your arms and get caught in your hair is both surprising and fascinating.

I found a small owl in the garden on Sunday morning, the sort we call an 'autillo'. Small, big head, big eyes, no ears. We hear them a lot but it's the first time I've seen one close up. It took a look at me, didn't think much of what it saw and flew off.

I saw a couple of wild boar in a field behind the house, loping casually towards somewhere, their beds probably. They stopped and looked, then went on their way. That's the country.

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