Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Asparagus but Were Afraid to Ask

I’ve been in a bit of a slump, writing-wise, lately. So after more afternoons of fruitless web surfing and vacant staring out the window than I care to count, I decided to consult an expert for some inspiration. My friend and neighbor, Jan, is a former editor of the London Daily Mail, a newspaper so influential in Britian that its power has been equated to that of a cabinet minister’s. Now a French resident, she has a pretty sweet deal. Whenever inspiration strikes (or she is a little low on cash), she calls a friend of hers who works as an editor at the paper and pitches him a story, which he always agrees to both print and write her a big fat check for. This is clearly a woman who can teach me a thing or two.

Naturally, she doesn’t like to give away her best ideas for free, but we are good enough friends that she doesn’t mind suggesting story topics that she isn’t planning on using herself. And this was one of them: “Why not write something for the food section on Asparagus?” Asparagus? “Did you know that Pertuis is known for having the best asparagus in all of France?”

I did not know that.

But now that I knew, did I care?

I decided I did. After all, it’s quite something to discover that a village just one town over has the best something in the nation, even a nation as small as this one. It would be like someone in Brookfield learning that New Berlin makes the best curly fries in Wisconsin, or someone in Hartland discovering that Oconomowoc is home to the state’s finest Taco Bell, or a Chicagoan… Actually, this doesn’t really work with Chicago, where residents consider anything within the city limits but north of Irving Park Road so far away that it may as well be part of Canada and therefore not worth knowing anything about.

So anyway, I set out to discover what’s interesting about asparagus. And here’s the verdict: Not much. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. Here are some asparagus facts my research has uncovered:

  • The English word “asparagus” derives from classical Latin, but it was once known in English as sperage, from the Medieval sparagus, which is from the Greek aspharagos or asparagos, which is from the Persian asparag, meaning “sprout” or “shoot.” Still awake? Or did I lose you?
  • In parts of Texas it is referred to as “aspar grass,” a fact that I find comical, but not surprising, given that it’s Texas and all.
  • There are three kinds of asparagus: Green, white and wild (the last of which is well-known for its risqué spring break videos).
  • Asparagus is prepared differently all over the world, but is most commonly steamed and served with a bit of Hollandaise sauce.
  • Hollandaise is a Dutch word and sauce, but it sounds and tastes better when someone French is in charge.
  • Asparagus rhizomes and root are used to treat urinary tract infections as well as kidney and bladder stones. Yummy!
  • It is also believed to have aphrodisiacal properties (see aforementioned videos).
  • Some of the constituents of asparagus are metabolized and excreted in the urine, giving it a distinctive smell.
  • Recent studies suggest that every individual produces these odorous compounds upon eating asparagus, but that only about 40% of individuals have the genes required to smell them. No mention was made of who was in charge of smelling the pee or what had prompted them to choose such a career, which, to me, would have been the interesting part of this anecdote. But it did have the side effect of making me feel grateful to be an unsuccessful writer rather than a successful pee-sniffer.

So there you have it, my non-article about the humble (and perhaps deservedly so) asparagus plant. Sure, I may have wasted the good part of a morning researching and writing this, but at least I wasn’t playing on the internet or putzing around the house… Or working with urine. On the downside, though, it is unlikely that anyone will pay to read this. Unless each of you agrees to mail me a dollar. Then I’ll be the one with the sweet deal. And I’ll consider this slump officially over.

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4 thoughts on “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Asparagus but Were Afraid to Ask

  1. hey darlin’ – well the Dutch pride themselves on thier ‘sperges hollandaise’ however, …I prefer the sauce done the french way yes! Luv ya

  2. [this is good] We learned about the recessive gene for asparagus pee-sniffing in Bio 100 (for non-majors and slackers) at UWSP… great class.

  3. [this is good]

    (the last of which is well-known for its risqu; spring break videos)

    you crack me up. so glad you found some inspiration.
    come back with more.

  4. [いいですね] HAHA, I guess I’m in the golden 40%…so to speak…yep, I’m one of the few, the proud, the pee sniffers. I eat loads of asparagus, usually just steamed with real butter. I think I’m going to have to look for the white and wild kind…don’t worry, I’ll bring my video camera if I find anything…

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