It’s been raining on and off today. It rained last night. It rained last week and the week before that. Despite the shortness of the showers and the blazing blue skies that break out the second that they stop, I’d never been to Cyprus in the winter and, I think part of me was surprised and annoyed to realise that it does actually rain here. Didn’t I leave all this precipitation business behind in the UK?
BUT I found out this week that the upside to all this winter rain is the sudden availability of tasty, seasonal wild stuff like asparagus. In the the UK, I tended to think of asparagus as a spring- or summertime vegetable but in Cyprus the season for going out foraging for it is January to March.
Where to Hunt
I would suggest starting out by just having a walk around your local countryside and keeping a look out for the older, bristly stems of the asparagus plant. They are very spiky and have a grayish-green color to them:
There is an useful YouTube video on spotting wild asparagus plants, but rather than finding them out in the open, the best cheat I’ve learned is to actually go straight to Hawthorn trees. Mediterranean Hawthorns are called mosphila (μόσφιλα) in Cyprus (they make their own tasty fruits, but that’s a post for another day) and wild asparagus loves to grow at their base. That is where I’ve found 90% of my recent haul.
Having looked at those photos, be prepared: the asparagus is spiky and the Hawthorn is, true to its name, thorny. So if you’re doing it right, you are going to get some scratches. Just don’t wear nice clothes and find a handy stick to help you push some of the barbed undergrowth out of the way.
Suck it up, because it’s worth it when you find this:
Ideally, when you do find some, don’t take every single shoot nor the very young (too short, too skinny) ones. Leave some so that the plant can grow and go to seed – guaranteeing you more to harvest next year! Just be aware, that sometimes this asparagus business can get competitive, especially if you’re near a village. Other people will know where the good spots are, and some weeks you might go to your favorite location just to find a whole lot of nothing… except freshly cut shoots.
The Good Bit: Cooking and Eating
After all your hard work, make sure to prepare your asparagus the right way so you’ll enjoy it. Wild asparagus is more bitter than its domesticated cousin. Some people like it like that, but I prefer a milder flavor. So I would suggest always boiling it before grilling (or whatever other method your recipe calls for); just don’t boil it so much that it loses all its snap.
Cypriots really like chopping it up and frying it with eggs for breakfast. I love grilling it with balsamic vinegar and parmesan. Otherwise, Christina, at Afrodite’s Kitchen (which is a really cool Cypriot food blog), has an amazing looking recipe for risotto, using wild asparagus.
So just find a favorite receipt and get out there foraging – despite my complaining, it is sunny most of the time so you have no excuse!