Karen and the Quest for Wild Asparagus

30lbs of not wild asparagus
Living out here in the cornfield for nigh about four years has made me believe I am something of a pioneer, and as a pioneer, I like to do pioneer-y, nature-y things. Mostly these pioneer-y, nature-y things consist of sitting in my comfy sunroom with a cup of coffee, looking out at the yard and the garden my husband has planted. Such a homesteader! But sometimes I flex my homesteading muscles in other ways: I sit on the stump stools my husband has honed out of fallen logs; I take my children horseback riding at nearby stables that are thankfully so nearby that I can go home and get away from the stink while they ride; and I have in fact gone ice skating on a frozen pond. Pioneer! And sometimes, me and my friend Andrea decide that we want to pickle asparagus, but the asparagus must be wild and must be foraged by hand, by us.

So sometimes (one time), I go ditching.

What do you mean you don’t know what ditching is? Pfffft. City dwellers.

Ditching is where you go foraging for wild asparagus in the ditches beside country roads, obvi. Yes, I just heard of it. Yes, I decided I had to do it. Just call me Ma Ingalls. So me and Andrea lit out bright and early Monday morning to go ditching.

Andrea showed up at my house in grubby sweats and sneakers. “Let’s go, sunshine!” Her usual call to action for me. I was ready. Well, as soon as I got dressed, ate a banana, talked to my sister on the phone for a bit and found my keys/sunglasses/wallet/kitchen scissors/gum.

“Wait,” I said as I slipped on my Hunters, “you have boots in the car, right?”
“No, I have these,” said Andrea. She lifted a leg and displayed her sneaks. “Um, no. We’re going ditching. In ditches. It’s rained for three days. Hang on – “ I went downstairs and returned with Chris’s size 10 Wellingtons. “Ok,” I said, “let’s go!”
Andrea put on Chris’s gigantic boots and tried not to fall down my front steps. “Better wear the sneakers to drive," I suggest.

We get to the end of my driveway when I warn Andrea that I will need a coffee. “Ok, no problem,” she says. We turn off my street and head out of town. Tim Hortons is approaching on the left. “Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!” I yell. “What, now?” Andrea asks. “Yes, now!” Hard left and we swerve into the drive-through. Phew. Close one.

I have my coffee in hand and now we are really ready to go. “Ok, where are we going?” asks Andrea. “Highway 3,” I reply. “Ok, where’s highway 3?” I look at Andrea. “Um, haven’t you lived here your whole entire life?”
“Then why don’t you know where highway 3 is?”
“Do you know where highway 3 is?”
“No clue.”
“Ok, let’s just go this way. There are ditches everywhere.”

And off we go, trying to hit paved country roads that are otherwise deserted, lest farm ladies get suspicious watching us wade through ditches with our coffee in one hand and a pair of kitchen scissors in the other.

Questions you should try to answer before you go ditching:
  • What kind of ditches does wild asparagus grow in – natural indentations at the side of the road, or man-made drainage ditches?
  • What does wild asparagus look like?
  • Does wild asparagus propagate among less innocuous ditch-growing species, like stinging nettles or giant hogweed? 
  • Why does every farm lady decide she must retrieve her mail as soon as you pull your minivan over to look in the ditch for wild asparagus?
  • How exactly does one plan on cutting and retrieving wild asparagus while holding a coffee
  • Where is highway 3? 

“What’s this,” I ask, peering into the ditch. “Is this wild asparagus?”
“I don’t know. Could be.”
“Or it could be something I am highly allergic to and/or is deadly poisonous.” I pick it up anyway, sure it’s not something deadly poisonous.
“Could be.”
I put it down.

Then we remember that we have one thing the pioneers never had, and I google wild asparagus. Oh! It looks just like tame asparagus. I stop touching plants that could be highly allergenic and/or deadly poisonous. The good news is, we have definitely not found and dismissed any wild asparagus plants. The bad news is, we have definitely not found any wild asparagus plants. What is wrong with these ditches?

Andrea starts laughing. “What is it,” I ask.
“It’s you,” she says.
I look at me. Hunter boots, gap jeans, windbreaker, designer sunglasses, Tim Hortons coffee and cell phone. Wading through a ditch, looking for asparagus. “I don’t see what’s so funny,” I say, and jump back in her minivan. “Next ditch.”

We drive around for about half an hour more, encouraged by our one discovery of a patch of something that Google tells us is wild asparagus that had been left for so long it had gone to seed. Wild asparagus! We found it!
“Remember where we are,” says Andrea, “for next year.”
“Ok,” I say. “Where the fuck are we?” (Thank you once again, Google. Jesus, the pioneers had a tough life.)
Turns out we are nowhere even close to where I thought we were, but that was ok. “Oh,” says Andrea, “we’re not too far from Parks Blueberries. Maybe they have asparagus.”
“Let’s do it. It’s almost lunch time anyway, and I’m starving.” So we head to Parks, a farm/country store/cafĂ©, and I spend $30 on lunch, some baked goods and a new scarf.

“Well, we got our asparagus,” Andrea says, enjoying another spoonful of the delicious cream of asparagus soup.
“Yes, we are awesome pioneers.”
Andrea nods in agreement.