My first memory of eating creamed asparagus on toast goes way back to a Sunday after Easter when I was about 4 years old. I remember bouncing into the kitchen and immediately stopping short, accosted by the aromas of burnt toast and hard-boiled eggs. But mixed with those unsavory odors was the anticipation of having a chocolate bunny ear for dessert. My family didn’t often eat asparagus, and it was not until many years later that I developed a real liking for it. Looking back, I admire my mother for her wisdom in combining special foods with special times of the year.
Traditions are not meaningful unless they are understood; so it was with our family tradition of creamed asparagus on toast. Several years ago, when I initiated the spring feast with my own family, my children asked, “Why do we have to eat ASPARAGUS?” Pressed to find a good reason why, I dug into my family heritage. What I found there has given me an appreciation for my agrarian roots and a new sense of connectedness with the seasons.
A century ago, most folks grew what they ate and ate what they grew. Because my ancestors were farmers, they were especially dependent on the family garden for their food. This is where the combination of asparagus, eggs, flour, milk and butter originates: necessity.
By early spring, the kitchen larder was low on everything but flour and dairy products. Chickens had just begun laying again, and asparagus was the first edible green vegetable to poke its shoots through the spring earth. Of course, some folks would mention poke weed, but not all of us appreciate poke.
Those wonderful farm women did not let on that things looked grim; instead, they created a special recipe that helped to extend the remaining food supply until the spring garden began to produce. What a delicacy they were serving up to their poor, unsuspecting children!
So I could answer the question Why asparagus? with a Because. Because it’s a family tradition. And it’s delicious—you’ll see!
Since spring and Easter coincide, this dainty asparagus dish is a traditional way to celebrate new beginnings. It’s also a great way to use up all those pretty dyed eggs left over from the Easter egg hunt.
What comes next? you may ask. I have a memory of creamed peas and new potatoes … but that’s a May story.
Creamed Asparagus Over Toast
Six hard boiled eggs (preferably the brightly colored, nicely decorated kind), peeled and sliced thin
1 pound fresh asparagus, gently steamed
1 recipe white sauce (see below)
Buttered toast for 4 to 6 people
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt 3 Tbs. butter in large skillet. Sprinkle 3 Tbs. flour over melted butter and stir until smooth. Add 1 cup milk and stir with a whisk to prevent lumps. Season to taste and stir over a medium heat until bubbly.
Prepare white sauce first. Steam the asparagus until just tender; chop and add immediately to the skillet along with the sliced boiled eggs. Stir until blended. Serve over warm buttered toast.
This makes a festive lunch or light supper.
Connie Foss formerly published Good Life & Good Literature quarterly. She teaches English as a Second Language, plays banjo, and likes to write and do garden consulting (from planning to canning) in her spare time.