Main varieties grown in Ontario are green - the Viking selections and Centennial. White asparagus accounts for only 3 acres of production.
New hybrid varieties developed at the University of Guelph, as well as New Jersey hybrids are beginning to replace these traditional types of asparagus.
Asparagus is a source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, and an excellent source of folacin. One-half cup of cooked asparagus contains 24 calories.
For centuries, asparagus was considered a luxury and praised for its distinctive flavour by such famous figures as Julius Caesar, Louis XIV, and Thomas Jefferson.
Despite this, no one is quite sure where it originated, although some believe it derived from a wild plant that grew thousands of years ago in sandy soil across northern Europe and in Britain.
Buying and storing
Look for straight, crisp spears with green or purple tips with tight heads. It's freshness, not size, that's important. One pound (500 g) makes from two to four servings, depending on use.
Although best eaten fresh, asparagus can be refrigerated for two or three days. Wrap stem ends in damp paper towels, then cover entire bunch with plastic wrap. Or stand straight up in a jug of water.
Prepare the asparagus as you would for cooking, then blanch. Group the stalks in small bundles. Bring large pot of water to boil. Drop the asparagus bundles into boiling water. After the water returns to boil, boil for one minute. Quickly lift out the stalks and immerse them into cold water. Leave for two minutes. Drain well, pat dry and package the asparagus in freezer bags. Seal and date package. Freeze immediately. Asparagus may be stored one year at -18 deg.C.
Wash in cold running water to remove sand or grit. Then snap off and discard tough, woody ends.
To keep nutrients, flavour and crisp texture, don't overcook: thin spears may need less than three minutes. To speed cooking of thick spears, cut an "X" in the bottom of each stalk.
To cook asparagus, add enough water to saucepan to just cover asparagus. Add 1 tsp (5 mL) salt. Cook until tender crisp, drain well.
To serve hot, use immediately. To serve cold or use in a recipe, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Other methods of cooking include steaming (4 to 8 minutes, tightly covered), drizzled with oil and oven-roasted (at 500°F/260°C for 8 to 10 minutes) microwaving (covered with 2 tbsp water on High for 4 to 6 minutes) and stir-frying.
Cooked asparagus is often served with melted butter or hollandaise sauce and paired with boiled or scrambled eggs. It can also be lightly dressed with olive oil, steamed and wrapped in thinly sliced ham or prosciutto, or sautéed with garlic and wild mushrooms.
Information Source: Ontario Asparagus Growers' Marketing Board