About Asparagus

When I think of asparagus, I think of spring. I also think of California. Not necessarily in that order. Okay, it is one of the first produce crops to appear after the winter and for folks thinking seasonally, those green (or purple) stalks are a welcome sight at markets. Indeed, supermarkets often promote asparagus (perhaps as a loss leader) in springtime sales flyers. But in the Flyover States, those supermarket spears often originate from California (or Washington State). Or so I thought. Did you know that Michigan is actually the third largest producer of asparagus in the United States? I didn’t know either. Why Michigan? Well, growing asparagus requires soils that drain well, so the sandy soils of Michigan certainly meet that requirement. Think about Michigan’s location: It’s not THE Great Lakes State for nothing! Michigan shares boundaries with four of the Great Lakes: Huron, Superior, Erie, and, of course, Michigan. Sorry, Ontario!

Michigan2

The Great Lakes are a remnant of the last glaciation and retreat, forming when the Laurentide ice sheet retreated. And the soils of Michigan reflect the materials carried by the glacier and left behind when it receded–silts and sands and stuff, oh my! Also, the soils should freeze occasionally, so again, Michigan fits the bill. But here’s a question–is my supermarket asparagus from my neighbor to the north (given that I’m in Indiana, that neighbor would be Michigan). So, I took a trip to my local supermarket to see from where the asparagus they proffer for sale actually originates. Turns out, my local Marsh supermarket stocks asparagus from California. At least it isn’t China (the world’s largest producer) or Peru (number two in production). Fortunately for me, I’ve got access to wonderful local asparagus!

Asparagus is native to Europe, Africa (North), and parts of Asia. It didn’t really appear in the United States until the mid-19th century. Asparagus has been considered both a food and a medicine, as well as an aphrodisiac, no doubt owing to its rather phallic appearance.

In much of Europe (Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, etc.), asparagus is eaten as a white vegetable, renowned for its tenderness and flavor. I recall the excitement of Spargelzeit (asparagus time) in Germany, where it was served with hollandaise sauce. Americans typically eat the plant green. Interestingly, both white and green asparagus are cultivated from the same plant—to keep asparagus white, shoots are kept covered to prevent exposure to the sun (and thus keeping the process of photosynthesis from occurring).

I love asparagus, especially roasted or grilled! On my first trip to the farmers market of the outdoor season, I stumbled across—not literally—local PURPLE asparagus.
PurpleAsparagus2
The grower told me that other customers found the purple variety (and it is a different variety) a bit sweeter. Ever the foodie, I bought a bunch and roasted them (recipe in the next post). The verdict? Yes, sweeter and full of flavor. And I love the color!

Asparagus tips

  • Asparagus is often sold in bunches affixed by a rubber band. Remove the band toward the bottom (where the stalks have been cut off) or simply snip the band with a pair of scissors to avoid damaging the asparagus tips.
  • To keep your asparagus fresh if not using immediately, place the stalks in a jar or glass with some water, then put the glass/jar in the refrigerator.
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The Breaded Pork Tenderloin–Definitive and Delicious!

The Breaded Pork Tenderloin (BPT), one of the most famous Midwestern sandwiches, is so popular that TWO flyover states lay claim to it—Indiana and Iowa.  Both states are among the top pork producers (Iowa is number one and Indiana is in the top ten), so it’s no wonder that this fried and breaded testament to porcine deliciousness calls these two states home.  I’m not going to get into an argument over which is the “real “ birthplace, though, living in Indiana, I’d vote for the Hoosier state.  Allegedly, Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana, (between Fort Wayne and Muncie) is where it all began.  Anyway, this sandwich is so beloved that it’s inspired driving tours and a blog dedicated to it, written by Rick Garrett.

The humble pig (and its ancestor, the wild boar) is not native to North America; rather, they stem (geographically) from Africa and Eurasia.  Pig production in what is now the United States (or rather, the colonies prior to the end of the Revolutionary War), began with both Spanish (initially, Hernando de Soto) and English (e.g. Sir Walter Raleigh) explorers bringing pigs.  But why Indiana or Iowa?  Why the Midwest?  As the population grew, so did the pig industry, spreading west as the colonies (and later, the United States) expanded its territory.  Indeed, Cincinnati, Ohio was once called Porkopolis, owing to its hog slaughter industry.  Today, the Midwest is geographically and climatologically well suited for pig production.

You can consider the breaded pork tenderloin to be the Midwest’s interpretation of the Wiener Schnitzel and you’d be correct.  The Wiener (Vienna) Schnitzel is a veal cutlet, pounded thin, breaded, and fried, typically served with a wedge of lemon and some sort of potato product (fried, parsley potatoes, potato salad).  That it’s made with pork here isn’t exactly heretical—order a schnitzel in Germany (or some other countries), for example, and you’d get pork, not veal.  But these Euro-schnitzels aren’t sandwiches.  Or, should I say, SANDWICHES (all caps intentional).  You see, the BPT isn’t just some meat in a bun—it’s more involved than that.  The tenderloin part must have an area at least twice that of the bun (see picture below).

BPT_Sandwich

It can’t just stick out a little—not if it’s a real BPT—it has to truly dwarf the bun.  That massive overhang is part of the sandwich’s appeal.  If you’ve never seen one, your jaw should drop.

As wonderful as the gargantuan-sized BPT is, sometimes it’s a bit much.*  Granted, it is inimitably shareable, in a way (I’m imagining a set of three or four friends, all in different chairs, eating this single sandwich WITHOUT HAVING TO CUT IT UP BECAUSE THE PORK IS LARGE ENOUGH TO COVER THE ENTIRE TABLE).  But let’s face it, folks, it makes for poor appetizers or snacks for a crowd.  And while it tastes great, it’s MORE filling, not less.  But fortunately, a slider version of this Hall-of-Fame sandwich is better suited for small bites fare. Therefore, I bring to you BPT sliders in my next post—all the taste, but a fraction of the mass.

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WHERE the bleep are the Flyover States, anyway?

The term Flyover States doesn’t refer to a neatly defined, clearly demarcated geographic zone.  It’s not like Pacific Northwest or Gulf Coast states—two examples of regions that are based on relationships to bodies of water.  It doesn’t have a directional basis, like MidAtlantic or Northeast, or even Midwest.  Sure, there’s a general sense of the where (ummm, it’s somewhere between the East and West Coasts), but there exists no formal definition of Flyover States.  Well, the beauty of that means I get to generate my own personal definition.

So, where are MY Flyover States located?  See the map below—it encompasses states considered to be part of the Midwest, the Plains, the Great Lakes.  It’s where people don’t, generally,  speak with well known accents like the Southern accent1 (though, to be sure, the Minnesotans I’ve met do pronounce creek as crick, even though the word should be spoken with a long “e”.)

FlyoverLand1

Flyover Tapas’s Flyover States–click to enlarge the image

1In my part of the Flyover States (Indiana), one does hear southern-esque accents, an artifact of the Upland Southerners who migrated and took jobs in the auto industry.

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