Saturday, April 9, 2016

Asparagus, five (weird, sad, damp) ways

I wanted something spring-y this weekend, but we're still early enough in spring to mostly be staring at the ground and trying to will delicious things to sprout than actually enjoying any fresh delicacies. (If your mental powers allow you to sprout productive strawberry and/or raspberry plants at will from the early April ground, consider this your formal invitation to visit Chez Poppy ASAP.)

Then I remembered that there is one treat that will be popping up any day now, so I'm officially proclaiming today 'Sparagus Saturday.

I have to admit, some of the recipes I found for asparagus were not particularly exciting. The often-colorful Coastal Carolina Cooking (Women's Auxiliary to the Ocean-View Memorial Hospital in Myrtle Beach, 4th printing, 1963) offers a sad little sandwich:

A stalk of asparagus rolled up in a buttered/ be-mayo-ed slice of bread and stored in a damp towel does not sound like the type of dish that will bring too many people running-- not even the women who are used to being served dyed-pink canned pears at ladies' luncheons.

The often-scary Stuart Simmers Cook Book (The Pine Needles Mothers' Association of the Pine School, ca. early 1970s) may be even sadder:

At least I can imagine Asparagus Sandwich assumes fresh asparagus, but Easy Asparagus Casserole is just canned asparagus baked in damp bread with a little cheese on top, I guess to help distract diners from noticing how dismal this little affair really is.

To really go can-crazy, turn to the American Home All-Purpose Cookbook (Ed. Virginia T. Habeeb, 1966):

Asparagus and Cheese Soup requires two cans of condensed cream of asparagus soup and one cream of celery, plus tomato juice. The whole lot is mixed with Roquefort cheese and served cold with a crumbled bacon topper. It sounds like a salty, gloppy mess... but I imagine some people would at least be tempted to steal the bacon.

The Lutheran Ladies (The Lutheran Ladies Cookbook, 1970) decided to turn their asparagus into a more interesting centerpiece than the usual noodle or rice ring:

They suggest Asparagus Ring, consisting of canned asparagus in a cheese sauce, lightened up with whipped egg whites.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the mold is that it is not only a vegetable ring itself, but the instructions call for it to be filled with more vegetables-- peas and water chestnuts, to be exact. Ring recipes were usually for a carb-based ring holding back a sea of (often creamed) meat. This veggie-on-veggie action, especially in a church cookbook where rice is often considered a vegetable, shocks me maybe a bit more than it should. Apparently some Lutherans are not too opposed to eating their veggies.

The real standout of the retro asparagus dishes, though, is this gem from Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Vegetables (Including Fruits) (1966):

Gaze upon the splendor that is Asparagus Macaroni Loaf with Stellar Sauce. The slabs of flat, gray (Okay, the pic is black-and-white, but why do I have a feeling they would still be gray even if it were in color?) asparagus that look like a child could have made them out of modeling clay "snakes"! The weird cross on top, perhaps meant to keep the loaf from turning to evil! The wall of macaroni, frozen in place even as it tried to wiggle away! The disks of lemon and cucumber, apparently inflamed with passion by the plight of their mortal enemy the macaroni, intertwining their slim bodies in full view of god and everyone.

Plus the dish full of nondescript gravy sitting back and watching from a safe distance.

So how can one make a an Asparagus Macaroni Loaf of one's own?

It all starts with instant nonfat dry milk powder-- always the tastiest way to begin a recipe. Just mix with flour, salt, pepper, and water and cook on a double boiler to make the saddest white sauce ever. At least it gets a little help from egg and Gruyere (not American!) cheese.

Thankfully, the asparagus is frozen rather than canned, and arranged with a little pimento cross on the bottom of the loaf pan before being topped with macaroni and cheese.

Stellar Sauce, apparently believing the primary purpose of a sauce is to lubricate, not to complement (or even really change) the flavor of the main dish, mixes some of the leftover nonfat dry milk powder with cream of celery soup and some more Gruyere.

Those home ec teachers really know how to cut loose.

Okay, maybe not. But at least now I know that cucumbers and lemons do!

Happy 'Sparagus Saturday! Get out there and will something tastier than canned cream soup or nonfat dry milk to grow in your yard.


  1. Happy "Sparagus Saturday" Poppy!!! (I think:)

    It's no wonder that a whole generation grew up not caring whether asparagus season ever willed itself to rebirth! Just look at these recipes!

    I really have to wonder whether we'll be looking back on dishes made today the same way. Time will tell I suppose:)

    Thanks for sharing, Poppy...

    1. I grew up thinking I didn't like asparagus, but luckily my husband persuaded me to give it another try as an adult. Then I realized I just hated the way my mom made asparagus-- boil it until it's gray and then put it in an unseasoned lowfat milk/ flour sauce. Ugh! At least I have an idea of where she got her ideas about cooking.

  2. Lol sounds like many moms of the past Poppy. Vegetables were boiled to death!!! "See" you tomorrow (which is in about 5 minutes:) for Cookbook Wednesday!!!