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Springtime in Savannah

Springtime in Savannah

Birds and White Asparagus

by Damon Lee Fowler

For anyone who likes bird watching, Mama’s backyard is the place to be.

It’s a place for a cook to be, too, for despite all those nibbling critters, in its season there’s an abundance of almost everything from asparagus, delicate spring lettuce, herbs, and early squash to apples, mulberries, wild blackberries, butter beans, okra, tomatoes, turnips, and winter kale.

At this time of year, one of the rare and unexpected wonders of this little world is white asparagus. It’s not one of my mother’s horticultural experiments, but a complete accident that came about mainly because of all those birds.

Mama laid out her asparagus bed on the southern edge of the yard, where it would get plenty of sun all day long. A couple of yards away from the spot, there’s a forsythia bush. It blooms early and then sprouts a thick mane of dark foliage for the summer. She never gave it a thought.

When that dense shade became an annual nesting spot for a pair of brown thrashers and, some years, a pair of mocking birds, too, she couldn’t bear to prune it back and violate their sanctuary, so the bush was left to grow pretty much unchecked. And so, without a border to control it, did the asparagus bed.

Pretty soon, half the bed was under that forsythia, and the spears that sprout there, without any planning or mulching, come up as delicate and pale as the finest white asparagus selling for a premium in exclusive markets. Actually, it’s much better than market white asparagus, because it’s usually cooked within moments of being cut.

Truth to tell, I’ve rarely tasted it cooked. When I can get home during the season, I take a kitchen knife and slip out early in the morning, while the grass under my bare feet is still cold and wet with dew. Carefully lifting the branches of the forsythia, I quickly cut the first spear I see and eat it on the spot—no salt, no hollandaise, no enriching brown butter.

As its snapping crisp flesh yields under my teeth, its juices literally burst into my mouth, blooming on my tongue like the distilled essence of spring. You might think that this is a little selfish and underhanded, that my mother wouldn’t approve of my secretly raiding her asparagus like the rabbits who decimate her lettuce crop—and you’d be right—if only she weren’t standing right there beside me, doing exactly the same thing.

Asparagus (of Any Color) with Lemon Pecan Brown Butter

Regardless of your asparagus’s complexion, the toasted caramel undertones of brown butter and pecans, balanced by the tang of lemon, make the perfect foil for that spring-fresh flavor. But it’s also terrific with young green beans or almost any broiled, poached, or sautéed white-fleshed fish such as flounder, grouper, halibut, sole, or snapper.
Serves 4

Ingredients:1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and tough ends peeled
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup pecans
1 lemon, zest removed in fine julienne with a bar zester, cut in half

Put 1 inch of water in a skillet or other wide, shallow pan that will hold the asparagus flat in no more than 2 layers. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add a small handful of salt and, as soon as the water is boiling again, add the asparagus. Cover, bring it quickly back to a boil, and remove the lid. Cook briskly, uncovered, until the asparagus is barely tender but still bright green, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat, immediately drain, using the lid to hold the asparagus. Turn it out onto a warm platter and keep warm.

Put 4 tablespoons of butter in 9-or-10-inch skillet over medium high heat. When melted, add the pecans and sauté, tossing frequently, until the butter and pecans are a uniform golden-brown. Add the lemon zest and the juice from half the lemon. Cook for half a minute longer and remove the pan from the heat.

Swirl in the remaining butter, refresh with another squeeze of lemon juice, taste and add salt if needed. Pour it evenly over the asparagus and serve at once.

Damon Lee Fowler is a culinary historian and author of six cookbooks, including Classical Southern Cooking, Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Baking, and The Savannah Cookbook. His work has also appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Relish. He lives and eats in Savannah, Georgia.

Other Articles You May Like:

The Watermeltin’ Days of Summer


Beat The Heat


What’s in Season: Pumpkins


Reader Comments:


where is the perfect pound cake receipe. mentioned in the first home page.

sherri stroud of van texas on April 12, 2010 05:52 PM

Wow, what a great article! I love asparagus and I can’t wait to try the recipe!

Kaleigh Helsing of Easley, South Carolina on April 12, 2010 06:25 PM

Dear Paula,

This is such a beautifully written story about your Mom’s asparagus - I just love it and had to tell you so! I felt like I was also there with you picking a ‘fresh’ asparagus in the early morning dew. I love the recipe and will always remember this story to share with my family as well. You must have had a wonderful relationship with your Mom.

Peace and Blessings to you always,

Maria Tamborelli of East Greenwich, Rhode Island on April 13, 2010 10:01 AM

I really enjoyed reading your memories of growing and eating asparagus.  Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies.  I also have fond memories of my dad driving along country roads scouting out asparagus in the ditches.  Come spring it seemed like he knew every volunteer patch in 2 counties.  It was delicious.  My husband and I now have a 5 year old patch in our garden and it is in the southern most part of our garden.  I picked my first mess on March 29th, that is early for central Indiana.

Stephanie Emanus of Jasonville Indiana on April 13, 2010 10:24 AM

Where are the 10 fresh asparagus recipes mentioned on the home page?  The link leads to 1.

Michael Jaski of McDonough, GA on April 14, 2010 08:47 AM


Here are other asparagus recipes from our database:

Beer Battered Asparagus with a Lemon Herbed Dipping Service

Corn and Asparagus Salad

Fried Asparagus with Creole Mustard Sauce

Asparagus Quiche

Chicken and Asparagus Crepes

Phyllo Wrapped Asparagus

Asparagus with Sesame Citrus Sauce

Portobello and Asparagus Salad

Kelly O’Donnell’s Grilled Asparagus

Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad

Asparagus with Lemon Butter

Marinated Asparagus Salad

Asparagus Sandwich - Lady and Sons Restaurant

Grilled Asparagus with Lemon & Garlic

Fresh Asparagus and Curry Dip

Lisa the Admin of Savannah, GA on April 14, 2010 10:31 AM

Thank you, Lisa.

Michael Jaski of McDonough, GA on April 15, 2010 07:40 AM

lovecooking with you

brendagilley of 390sable ln thomasville nc27360 on April 15, 2010 10:23 AM

i just think you are truly the best. keep up the good work. the recipesare delliousssss

wanda elliott of abbeville S.C. on April 15, 2010 10:34 PM

Great story.  Feel like you are there.  Our favorite way to prepare asparagus I learned from my daughter, 
Trim spears and place in large plactic zip lock bag.  Add a little olive oil and Paula Deen House Seasoning(to taste) Roll around in bad=refridgerate and roll a couple more times.  Leave a least 1 hr. or can be done night before cooking.  Roast in oven at 400 degrees for about 10 min.  Longer if you want it browned a little.

Goes great w/any meet or fish.  I sometimes slice and do potatoes,onions or zuchinni squash the same way, or do any combination of them.

Margaret Wisler of Clearwater, Fl. on April 16, 2010 06:47 AM

hey paula,

Ihave watched you for some time now and i do love you and your beautiful family. I am looking and have been for some time for a poundcake recipe that my grandmother used to make when i was small. I do remember that there were alot of eggs and butter and the fabulous light sugary crust was to die for. My cousins and myself got our tails tanned but good many sundays for getting in the cake before dinner was served. the greatest memories ever. Do you have that beautiful southern poundcake recipe that might come close to recreating those memories of my childhood.

Pennye Brown of tampa, florida/ transplanted from Cuthbert GA. on April 16, 2010 05:38 PM

Where is the perfect pound cake recipe mentioned on the home page?

V. Hayes of Gainesville, Ga on April 19, 2010 03:11 AM

The Perfect Poundcake Recipe was featured in our Apron Strings Section:

Lisa the Admin of Savannah, GA on April 19, 2010 09:50 AM


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