Posts Tagged ‘Sparrow Grass’

Eggs Beatrice

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009


Here’s another recipe for my beloved Sparrow Grass–or perhaps I should say Spearage, which according to Kathleen Wall at Plimoth Plantation was a common 17th-century term for asparagus.

I’m not a big Eggs Benedict Girl—the consistency of the ham never seems to me to go with the rest of the ingredients—but alter the recipe a little and incorporate asparagus and I’m hooked. (You may of course add ham as well!)

I’m always a little cautious about poaching eggs, but I found a helpful new product at the Lamson & Goodnow retail store in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, that banishes my fears. It’s called an eggshell™ and comes in packages of two that look like little cracked eggs.

To use one of these silicone products, lightly grease the inside, pop your egg into it, and float the eggshell in boiling water. Cover the pot, and cook for 5 minutes. Your poached egg pops easily out of the silicone and onto your English muffin.


for the Hollandaise sauce (makes about 1 cup of sauce):

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
3 egg yolks
the juice of 1/2 small lemon
2 tablespoons hot water
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a pinch of salt

for assembly (per person):

1/2 English muffin
butter as needed for the muffins
1 slice Prosciutto (optional)
3 spears cooked asparagus (either whole or cut up)
1 poached egg
a generous dollop of Hollandaise sauce
salt and pepper to taste


First, make the Hollandaise sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan. In the top of a double boiler over warm (but not boiling!) water, whisk the egg yolks until they are smooth. Whisk in the lemon juice. Slowly whisk in the butter in a thin stream.

Slowly stir in the hot water, cayenne, and salt, and cook for 1 minute more, whisking constantly. Set the sauce aside while you poach the eggs and cook the toast.

For each person, butter half of a toasted English muffin, and lay the Prosciutto on top if you want to use it. Depending on your preference, put the asparagus on next or the egg (my mother and I liked it both ways!).

Cover with a little Hollandaise sauce, and season to taste. Serve immediately. One recipe of Hollandaise makes enough sauce for 4 to 6 eggs.

The Eggshells

The Eggshells

Sparrow Grass

Friday, May 15th, 2009


When I’m asked one of those silly hypothetical food questions—“What one food would you want to eat on a desert island?” or “What would you choose to eat for your last meal on death row?’’—I never have trouble making a decision. I’m an asparagus girl to the end.

Of course, asparagus is a cool-climate vegetable so it’s unlikely to grow on a desert island. And a prison chef would probably cook it until it was soggy. Nevertheless, I could eat even poorly cooked asparagus every day and be reasonably happy.

This time of year my favorite green vegetable is everywhere in the Pioneer Valley. As David Nussbaum recalled in Saveur magazine a few years ago, the Connecticut River Valley was the world’s asparagus capital between the 1930s and the 1970s.

Hadley Grass, as it was called, was shipped throughout the northeast and occasionally even overseas, where it was purportedly enjoyed by the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace.

When a blight hit the crop in the mid-1970s, Nussbaum wrote, asparagus in the area was hard hit. It took a while to find a blight-resistant strain, and many farmers moved on. Today it is mainly we locals who enjoy what remains of this formerly dominant crop.

Many western Massachusetts asparagus fans still use the term Hadley Grass, adapted from a popular nickname for the vegetable in the 1700s and 1800s, “sparrow grass.” Lexicographer John Walker wrote in 1791, “Sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry.”

I was seven when I first tasted freshly picked asparagus. My family was visiting one of my father’s graduate-school professors in Wisconsin. Like many Midwesterners the professor and his wife had a huge garden.

When I took my first bite of fresh-from-the-garden asparagus I was amazed at the flavor and texture. It tasted more like butter than any vegetable should. I kept eating—and eating—and eating.

I haven’t consumed that much asparagus at one sitting since then, but I still remember that visit with pleasure. And I celebrate asparagus season every year. One of my yearly ambitions (one spring I’ll fulfill it!) is to taste a unique asparagus treat served about an hour away from me.

A fabulous dairy in Hadley, Massachusetts, Flayvors of Cook Farm, makes asparagus ice cream at this time of year. I haven’t tried it myself, but every other flavor I’ve tried there has been freshly made and imaginatively conceived.

Every summer when we take my nephew Michael on his annual pilgrimage to the Eric Carle Museum we end up indulging ourselves at Cook Farm on the way home.

Just to get you going on your own asparagus journey I’ll be posting a few sparrow grass recipes, starting with this easy roasted grass formula. Don’t feel that you have to use any of them, however. Nothing beats this vegetable simply steamed or boiled, topped with a little butter and/or lemon juice.

Roasted Asparagus


1 pound asparagus, washed and trimmed
a generous splash of extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 handful feta cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (optional)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In an ovenproof dish, toss together the asparagus, oil, salt, and pepper. Lay the oiled asparagus in the dish in a single layer.

Bake the asparagus for 6 to 10 minutes (depending on its thickness; I had fairly thick asparagus so I used the full 10 minutes), turning once.

If you want to use the feta, lay it on top of the asparagus after turning. It won’t melt, but it will become warm and soft.

Remove the roasted asparagus from the oven, and garnish it with chives if desired. Serves 3 to 4.

Mother Jan is happy that Sparrow Grass season is here!

Mother Jan is happy that Sparrow Grass season is here!