Monday, March 28, 2011

The Thrill of the Hunt

Yes, we have become hunters.  We've prowled the woods, scrambled in the underbrush, and tracked through a river in seach of our prey.  We sustained scratches from thorns and sore backs from bending down, along with wet, muddy feet from the marshy areas, all in search of the wild edible known as aspargi

Before yesterday, I'd never seen an asparago in the wild.  I bought the neatly-rowed bundles at the supermercato, each of similar diameter and length, tied up neatly with string.  Aspargus that are coltivato, said my barista, have no taste.  She was explaining how her husband woke her up extraordinarily early the other day as he was preparing to go off on an aparagus-finding expedition.  I pleaded my ignorance publicly, asking where one would go to find the little critters.  Everyone went a little mum, each protective of their hunting grounds.

That's when Osvaldo chimed in.  A sometimes-resident of our village, he was in town for the weekend and was more than willing to talk stalks.  He started describing tracts along the Basento River: take the dirt path on the north side, keep going and you'll find the tell-tale plants.  Our blank looks led him to ask, "Uh, but you do know what the plant looks like, right?"  Well....yeah, it's the pointy green thing that you eat, isn't it?  "Mah!  What?!  You really have never seen a wild asparagus plant before?  Mah!  Andiamo!"

That's how it often happens here.  An off-hand comment results in an invitation or an offer of assistance.  And just like that, we were in his car heading downhill to his childhood home (now abandoned) and known foraging fields.  He led us along the paths, showed us the preferred hiding places of the creatures we were seeking, and how to identify their habitat - the sinewy and prickery tendrils that scream out:  Asparagus grow here.  At our elevation, it is still a bit early in the season and after about an hour of tramping around we were ready to give up when he spotted one of the hunted and called us over to show us the shoot poking up through the ground.  After that we located a few more and I felt positively triumphant when I caught my first all by myself.  All told, it wasn't a big take - 15 stalks.  Not enough for a lunch, but abbastanza for a taste.

From those few, however, many have multiplied.  As we recounted our tale of the hunt, our neighbors and another acquaintance brought bouquets of green stalks to our door.  They were more than willing to share their bounty with us - but not their hunting grounds.  Some secrets remain tightly kept.  But at least we know one place to go and what to look for.  Given a little more time (and some sturdy shoes and protective gloves) we'll become real hunters ourselves.


JB McMunn said...

They should train some dogs or pigs to find these. ;-) said...

Dear, Dear Valerie & Bryan,

What a terrific find ! How many stalks did you find and how do they look in the dirt?
Did they taste sweeter than the store bought? I get some that to taste half-way edible sugar needs to be added !!! yuk-o-mungo~~~
BTW~~~~if I haven't said before......your luncheon for your "Mama jj" & I was better than you-know-who's.......xoxo elle**

Eleonora Baldwin said...

In Rome we call these "asparagina" to differentiate from their sturdier cousins.
Love love love them and am so happy they are finally in season again.

I have to find the equivalent of your Osvaldo and go forage them myself, because unfortunately even small amounts, like the one pictured in your photo, go for many many euros at the farmers' market! (well, OK maybe not 15 stalks, but you know what I mean).

LindyLouMac said...

The delights of food for free cannot be beaten :)

Valerie said...

JB - No kidding!

Elle - Only 15, and they were rather reddish, sort of blended in. They're not really sweeter but more "full flavored" than store bought.

Eleonora - Osvaldo also called them asparagina, but then he lives in Roma and comes back every now and then. If we become experts at this foraging thing we'll sell them in Roman mercati and make a fortune! :)

LindyLou - So true!

Anonymous said...

We went on our first "hunt" with a niece and nephew - then we of course had to sample - our lunch was made with the asparagi in a red sauce over our spaghetti! Fantastico!

Italicana said...

I've thought of going mushroom hunting here but I never knew asparagas hunting existed! What an incredible adventure! Italians are so welcoming to show you their culture and customs, it's refreshingly wonderful:-)

Italian Postcards said...

That sound really fun!