I grew up in a small, Illinois town on the Mississippi River. Hamilton was about 2000 people when I was a kid. I remember when they changed the population sign to 2200 and I thought we were on the way to cityhood. I think they’re up to 3000 now, maybe 3200. Rush hour isn’t much of an issue yet.
We lived on a hill above the river with a fabulous view of Keokuk, the power house, the dam, and the locks. On a good day if you walked to the edge of our yard you could see Illinois (where you were standing), Iowa (Keokuk is just across the river), and Missouri (several miles downriver). Geographically that pretty much nails it.
Just to the north of our house was “the pasture”, an open field of maybe 6 acres or so. Adjacent to the pasture on the east were my great grandparents’ and my grandparents’ homes. The pasture was the horse field of a sixty years before. It was never used in my lifetime so it was the center of much of our childhood activity. Just outside our window was a slope we took turns rolling down in a cardboard barrel. It was a lot more fun that it might seem although we were bored kids with few distractions. At the bottom was a hedge apple tree (a.k.a. Osage orange). Those big, green orbs were cool hand grenades until someone got hit by one. Using such lethal projectiles again reflects the boredom of a small town in the late 50s and early 60s. We used pretend hand grenades after that.
Next to the hedge apple was a mulberry tree that was our focus for a few days each summer. Our tongues, fingers and bare feet were a purple for a while but well worth it. It was a tasty snack that Liza and Claire grew up with as well since we have a mulberry tree in our backyard.
To the west the pasture ends in a 20-30 foot, heavily wooded slope of maybe 60-70 degrees. At the bottom is Illinois Highway 96. The north side had a thick cover of brush and brambles with another old horse pasture beyond that. The old horse shed was on the north side as well and served as a clubhouse from time to time.
The only tree in the pasture was a large, old apple tree but I don’t remember eating them. I’m guessing they weren’t a very good variety though I bet the horses loved them. Back in the southeast corner my cousin and I found a few red raspberry bushes which we never shared with anyone. We had lots of blackberries (in Mrs. Ormsby’s woods) but these were the only raspberries we ever found.
Another edible growing in the pasture was asparagus. My great grandparents had a large, cultivated asparagus patch and I’m guessing birds dropped seeds in the undergrowth around the edges of the pasture. Mom would send us out with a paring knife and a paper bag to find the tender spears popping up in the spring. I loved it! Crawling around in the scrub brush and tall, dried weeds was great fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t like asparagus back then. I’ve since changed my tune but when I was younger the harvesting was way more fun than the consuming.
I don’t have a photo for today’s recipe but if you look at my Breaded Pork Tenderloin post there is a picture of some asparagus prepared as below. Basically, it looks like the uncooked stuff but a bit darker.
Roasted Asparagus for 4
1-1 ½ lb asparagus
Reflection #1: For years I sought the smaller, thinner spears but I’ve since learned (I think from Will) that the fatter ones have more flavor. After numerous tests I have to concur.
1 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400.
- Prep the asparagus by either removing the tough ends or pealing the outside of the lover couple inches.
- Put on sided baking sheet and add the oil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Stir the asparagus spears around to coat leaving them in a single layer.
- Place in middle of oven once it is heated. Roast for 15 minutes or so depending on the thickness.
Some toasted sesame seeds add a nice contrast to the dark green and a subtle flavor to complement the strong asparagus.