verb (used with object)
1. to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit.
2. to gather (grain or the like) after the reapers or regular gatherers.
3. to learn, discover, or find out, usually little by little or slowly.
verb (used without object)
4. to collect or gather anything little by little or slowly.
5. to gather what is left by reapers.
Free for the taking. The email popped up in my mailbox the morning after a night of heavy persistent rain. A farm market 30 miles west not only got the rain but had also been hit by hail. Their asparagus fields had survived but the hail had made the remaining stalks unsuitable for sale. However. If you didn't mind a little pocked marked asparagus, you could have as much as you could pick up. I quickly did the math. $2.99 a pound for grocery store asparagus or as much as I could pick for the price of a short road trip? I slapped on my mudders and pointed my little car west.The fields were at their end of their season. John, the cheerful man shuttling folks back and forth to the fields explained that we could take whatever we found, stalks lying on the ground, small tips just starting to emerge, take it all because it was just going to be plowed under the next day. Armed with my little green grocery basket I went to work. I thought more people would be out gathering the bounty but I toiled alone in my field while this man worked the field next to me. No matter, it was a beautiful day and the birds were chattering to one another in their secret bird language songs. It was better than any Ipod music I could jammed into my ears.Picking the stalks was not as easy as one would imagine. You're searching for green stalks in a green field. Nor is it a physically easy. The stalks are low to the ground and you've got to bend to get to them. I got into a rhythm once I did spot the stalks, stoop, snap, rise, crouch, snap and rise again. Slowly my basket started to fill.Happily not everything was crushed by hail. This was one of the many lady bugs I saw as I picked. A good sign of a nice healthy field. Stoop, snap, rise, stoop, snap, rise.My knees and back starting speaking to me as I continued my gleaning. "Don't you think it's time to stop?" they urged, "You have plenty of asparagus." The cheapskate side of my brain shouted them down. "FREE, it's FREE, just keep picking." I tried to distract myself with all the things I would do with my bounty. A majority of it would be blanched and vacuumed sealed to go into the freezer. The tender little tips I had made sure to also pick were destined to become pickles. The best and most tender stalks would go into my Dim Sum Sunday dish.With my basket finally full, I walked back up to the market store to say thanks for the gift and perhaps see what else might make the trip back home.While there was no sign saying how much they were, I'm betting they were as free as the asparagus.Did I mention we got a lot of rain? I drove home happy. My body ached, my nails had a fine line of soil beneath them and my jeans were tatooed with that wonderful black soil.
I hadn't planned to use asparagus for my Dim Sum dinner. I had a totally different dished planned. Even now there's a beautiful pork loin in the fridge still waiting for me. But this was just too good to pass up. I decided to blanch and stir fry my green treasure in Sambal Sauce. I only made half the amount and instead of shrimp paste I used anchovies crushed into a paste. I added a couple of Panko fried Soft Shell crabs to complete my Spring to the Extreme dish.The asparagus couldn't have been more tender and fresh. The spicy sweet peanut sauce danced through both the salty brine of the crab and the distinctive flavor of the asparagus. It was a beautiful marriage of flavors that made all the hard work and pain very much worth the effort. And while I was very sorry for the farmer's loss I was very thankful for his generosity that allowed me such a wealth of goodness.