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Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2001

Asparagus provides a taste of spring

Lately, I've begun checking the labels of fruits and vegetables in supermarket produce sections more closely. I'm looking for the origin of tomatoes, apples, citrus fruit, and assorted veggies or where they are grown. (Produce can be shipped in one country, but grown in another.)

Like other shoppers, I have my favorites. Right now, I'm sizing up the asparagus. While the California crop has been very tender and sweet, I know that the local season is just around the corner.

"I'm anticipating the crop in the next two weeks," said Perry DeKryger, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board in DeWitt, Mich., noting the date of May 7.

Asparagus with Browned Butter-Pecan Sauce is a tasty spring dish. Asparagus with Browned Butter-Pecan Sauce is a tasty spring dish.

But the movement of this most favored veggie to the Ohio border is more likely to come about mid-May when supply is more consistent. That's when supermarket chains such as Spartan Foods and Meijer decide to switch from the California crop to the Michigan crop, he said.

Of course there is some locally grown Ohio asparagus, and because we are south of Michigan, it would stand to reason that Ohio's supply might be picked just a tad sooner. However, Ohio's crop is smaller than Michigan's.

Which asparagus spears are best, thick or thin? There are the same number of bundles in thick or thin, Mr. DeKryger said. In smaller spears, the bundles are more concentrated. "We encourge consumers not to look for the daintiest spears. We recommend 5/8-inch diameter. In fact, processors dock growers if there is too much pencil-thin grass. I know that fine dining restaurants and magazines always show fine and dainty. But we don't care what consumers buy, just as long as they buy Michigan asparagus."

As for those pricey white spears that are not grown commercially in the United States, "these are [virtually] the same as green spears, except they are grown in the absence of light," said Mr. DeKryger. "When the spears hit the sunlight, they turn green because of the chlorophyll."

Expect the Michigan harvest, which is primarily grown in the western part of the state, to last until June 25.

As for me, I'll keep buying those thin, dainty little spears.

Asparagus with Browned Butter-Pecan Sauce

2 pounds fresh asparagus

Salt to taste

Browned Butter-Pecan Sauce (recipe follows)

Cook asparagus over medium-low heat covered in 1/2-inch water in medium saucepan until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes; drain. Season with salt, to taste. Arrange asparagus in serving dish, and pour Browned Butter-Pecan Sauce over it. Serve remaining sauce in gravy boat.

For Browned Butter-Pecan Sauce:

8 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves

Salt to taste

Heat butter and pecans in small skillet over medium-high heat until butter and pecans are browned, stirring frequently; stir in marjoram just before the end of cooking time. Pour butter and pecans over asparagus; season with salt to taste and serve hot.

Yield: 8 servings

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. E-mail her at food@theblade.com.

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