Hunting the Wild Asparagus in Greece

Volunteering on farms is nice.

But petsitting in a modern three-story home in coastal Greece?

I could get used to this.

Here in Elea, we are isolated among the olive trees and it feels as though John and I are a two-person audience for the daily sunsets that unfold over the ocean.

This is mine?

In short, I'm not sure how I'll manage to leave this place.

On a recent stroll with the dogs, we ran into some expat neighbors who invited us over for a drink. The wife, Kathryn, was cooking up a sort of vegetable strudel and casually mentioned the presence therein of some wild asparagus she had discovered earlier.

Here's the thing:

You can't just casually mention you found wild asparagus to someone like the Chowgypsy.

The olive trees and an old stone house in our backyard as I set out for the hunt

Controlling any exterior show of unbridled excitement, I then began privately obsessing over the question of how I would find some wild asparagus of my own.

Since the asparagus I find in the grocery store is usually from South America or some other far-away locale, it's one of the foods that I don't buy as an attempt to lower my culinary carbon footprint (it goes along with one of my reasons for why you should consider having a garden).

But I miss asparagus—it's up there with bananas and avocados as one of the foods I long for most as I follow this ideology of eating local and seasonal foods.

So when it came to the question of finding guilt-free wild asparagus, it simply had to be done.

Just some casual ruins on my asparagus-hunting route (everythingisamazinghere).

I set out the next day.

Sure, I had no idea where to look, I didn't actually even know what to look for, and I really didn't know if even the conditions were right.

Why hadn't I asked Kathryn these things?

To the surrounding "backyard" I went. After over an hour of walking in slow motion, squatting, staring, and moving on, I headed back to the house discouraged, but resolved to try again after the next rain.

My downcast eyes fell upon a splay of wild olive trees and I paused, noticing the underbrush. What if...?

Same routine: approach slowly while scanning the area, squat, stare...

And there it was. My first wild asparagus spear.

Lithe and appetizing, I knew it had been waiting for me.

Greece, you have made my life.

I feel like I am living a fairy tale. A fairy tale where the fairies eat human food like wild asparagus, of course.

They weren't exactly plentiful, but with enough stalking underneath the cover of the ancient olive trees (which, I'll mention, happened to be strewn all over the local surroundings) I found plenty of those precious and lonely soldiers.

Turns out I had walked by them several times during our stay, not noticing how all along the prickly weeds I'd avoided had actually been harboring these verdant pillars of gastronomic rapture.

Spread out in a seemingly random pattern among the underbrush, some were a deep purple, some rich and vibrantly green. Some were strangely tree-like, with tiny asparagus "branches" laddering up the stalk (which represented older stalks), and some resembled the column-like form seen in grocery stores.

Like most wild-born foods, they were skinnier than what you typically buy from commercial farms.

I pulled out my knife and carefully navigated the prickly plant from which it grew, cutting a chosen few for Sunday brunch.

One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

I was foraging. I was foraging in the wild!

This is what I've been working for.

This is what good eating is all about: finding what's fresh, sustainable, and delicious and proceeding to eat it with abandon.

Sticking out like a sore and very tasty thumb

Here's a purply stalk that's past its eating prime since it has
 started to "blossom"

The flavor of wild asparagus is ever-so-slightly smoky, somehow reminiscent of buttery popcorn, and lacks the mild bitterness that most South American asparagus harbor.

You feel like you're eating nature, but in a good way. And don't be be surprised if while you're chewing random images of enchanted forests with towering redwoods and waving toadstools pop into mind.

It's simply one of those magical foods.

You think you're sooooo clever amidst all your thorns and camouflage greenery.


Not wanting to overpower the magic of a deliciously unadulterated mouthful, I kept brunch simple.


It is a recipe that needs very little explanation:

Wild Asparagus with Creamy Polenta and Soft-Boiled Eggs

1. Make the polenta according to package directions (using some butter, salt, and pepper, and a bit of milk toward the end for creaminess).

2. In a non-stick pan, sautee some red onions for 10-15 minutes. Set aside. There should be a little EVOO (or butter, you crazy thing!) still in the pan. If not, add some more for the amount of asparagus you have.

3. Meanwhile, for soft-boiled eggs, gently place whole eggs in constant-but-barely simmering water for 5-6 minutes, soak in ice bath afterwards. Keeping egg upright, gently crack the top and use a small spoon to go between the shell and the egg white and peel the top of the shell off.

4. Over medium high heat in the same pan that you used for the onion, add the wild asparagus and cover the pan for the first 1-2 minutes. Remove cover and saute for 3-5 minutes, or until light browning begins to occur on some of the stalks. If any of the asparagus are purple, they should turn green (food science excitement!!). Do not overcook.

5. Plate in the way that makes you happiest. Wild asparagus day is your day, kiddo.

Who needs a soft-boiled egg cup when you can simply make a polenta nest!? #ilovefoodnests

Eat. Indulge. And never, ever forget this meal.


Stay tuned, because soon we will sadly leave our generous hosts and beloved dogs, setting off to Monemvasia and a farm further north on the Peloponnese.

And if you'd like to learn more about eating local and seasonal foods, check out the Slow Food Movement!

7 comments:

  1. Your little countryside in Greece looks absolutely beautiful! Envious of your wild asparagus too as we don't get it very often here in Turkey either.

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    1. It was SUCH an amazing treat to find out that it was growing here. Even though it's relatively warm right now (but getting down to 4 degrees at night), who would expect it in the winter??

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  2. So if you were there for longer, could you ever try and cultivate it in a little garden? That is pretty awesome. One of my favorite lines in all of your blog posts: "...the prickly weeds I'd avoided had been harboring these verdant pillars of gastronomic rapture.."

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    1. thank you thank you. I think you could cultivate it, but it sounds like it'd take a couple years due to the way it grows. But I have to say, nothing can compare to the feeling of foraging, so I don't know if I'd cultivate it even if I could.

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  3. Oh Meggan and John! Aspargus in winter -- a fairy dream indeed! And that does it, I'm going to devote part of the garden to an asparagus bed, even if it does take several years to mature. Though I doubt I'll be able to match the hint of smoke that your wild asparagus evokes -- beautiful photos of the land and the food.

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  4. The beauty of asparagus as nature intended...that is immense! I hope while you're foraging John has honed his hunting skills?

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    Replies
    1. Immense is the word...As for John, no hunting, but he has learned how to butcher a goat (kind of), so that counts for something, huh?

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