I am wont to comment on some issues repeatedly throughout a season in order to remind you to pay attention at the grocery store and to help you make some comparisons as you shop the markets. I can never wait for asparagus to come in, and as much as I love greens, I am looking for anything that doesn’t curl or flutter by late spring. So I sometimes indulge that impatience by buying asparagus at the grocery store, as I did the other day. At Whole Foods I carefully picked out two bunches of fresh asparagus that came to about 1.84 lbs. and cost $5.50. It was “on special” for $2.99 per lb.
When I was ready to prepare it for dinner, I first discovered by checking for the bendable point on the stalk that I was going to have to remove about a third of each stalk, except for the two that broke even higher up. I also discovered four stalks, two each in the middle of each bunch, that were withered, probably just from age. So when I finished with the prep work, I was down to a little less than a pound of edible asparagus – which meant that I had paid more like $5 a pound instead of the advertised price.
When you shop at a market, the asparagus will have been picked either the day before or even the morning of the market. It will have been picked close to the ground, and almost all of the stalk will be tender and edible. The tips will be tight, which also attests to their freshness. And most important, the asparagus will taste fresher; it does seem to take on a bitter bite as it ages on its long journey from Mexico or California. So market asparagus will give you much more value for your money, more flavor and more nutrition.
This is a perfect example of what I like to call the value quotient at a market, and you can learn to recognize it for yourself if you practice and remember. This is also the best argument to use when responding to those who complain that market prices are too high. There are other examples – other ways to look at the produce you buy, how you use it, and what it does for you when you consume it. Over the next month or so as the markets fill up will all that value, I will be sure to point out more of those examples.