Michigan asparagus: Cream of the crop, sign of the times

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As well as not raining for a dozen hours, today is so far proving to be wonderful for another reason: A gift of several pounds of fresh asparagus from a farm on the west side of the state and a quart of cream from an Amish dairy came my way.

This means we’re having cream of asparagus soup for dinner. There are few things in this world so easy to prepare and so delicious. The lovely green soup, topped with a bit of cheese, is also wildly nutritious, proof of how much better it is to cook for yourself, rather than opening a can of soup that includes a ton of salt and preservatives.

As Michigan struggles with its deficits and unemployment remains high, this fresh-picked asparagus is a harbinger of sorts, a sign that all is not lost.

The asparagus was picked fresh from an organic field yesterday morning. The cream is from an Amish dairy farm, where the business is run on the honor system. You take what you want from their produce stand or refrigerator (in the case of the milk), and put your money into a can, making change as necessary.

We’re smack-dab in the middle of asparagus season in the state, which runs mid-May through the end of June. In fact, Michigan ranks third in the nation for the production of asparagus, which is actually a member of the lily family; the nutritionally dense vegetable accounts for a $15 million a year industry.

Asparagus, which is grown from crowns buried about a foot deep in sandy, well-drained soil, is a perfect crop for the western side of Michigan, which boasts miles and miles of sandy shoreline along Lake Michigan.

Not only is asparagus tasty, it’s good for you. According to the Michigan Asparagus Association, asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables in existence, leading nearly all produce items in the wide array of nutrients it supplies in significant amounts. It’s low in calories and sodium, and it’s a good source of a slew of other vitamins and minerals, including potassium, fiber, vitamin B6 and thiamin, as well as rutin, which strengthens capillary walls. A 5-ounce serving of asparagus also dishes up 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance of the all-important folic acid, which helps guard against birth defects.

And now, for the all-important final question: Why does my urine smell funny after I eat asparagus?

There appear to be two schools of thought on this issue. The first points its finger at methylmercaptan, a sulfur-containing derivative of the amino acid metionine. The second serves up asparagine-amino-succinic-acid monoamide, a derivative of the amino acide asparagine. Either way, the odor is formed during digestion and the breaking down of the beneficial amino acids contained in asparagus.

But stinky pee is a small price to pay for a bowl of the easy, delicious and nutritious cream of asparagus soup that made me forget all Michigan’s challenges, prompting me to give thanks for the good that still exists here.

Quick-and-easy cream of asparagus soup

3 pounds of fresh asparagus, rinsed and trimmed

4 cups chicken broth (I used a 32-ounce container of organic chicken broth)

2 onions

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

pinch sea salt

¼ cup cream

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot. When the oil starts to shimmer, add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter is melted and starts to pop, add the onions, stirring until the onions are translucent. Add the asparagus and cook them for five minutes.

Add the chicken broth and sea salt and bring it all to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

When done cooking, remove the pot from stove. Using a blender stick, puree the soup well. When done, stir in the last tablespoon of butter and the cream; stir until blended well and the soup lightens in color.

Ladle into bowls and top with grated cheese (I like romano). Enjoy with a glass of wine and crusty roll.

About Maria Stuart 211 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.