Novella’s Last Wild AsparagusFarmwoman Novella had a couple tempting bunches of wild asparagus at her vegetable box (to call it a “stand” would be an exaggeration) in the Assisi “piazzetta” the other morning. I stopped by early to chat with Novella and husband Bruno as they unloaded their 3-wheeled Ape (“bumble bee”, literally, but maybe best described as a “scooter truck”) and set up their farm abundance for morning sale. When we first moved to Assisi in 1975, the “Piazzetta dell’Erba” was ringed every morning with kerchiefed farm women in smocks and aprons selling vegetables, fruits and fresh eggs out of huge baskets. In the fall, they also offered wild mushrooms, in the winter, wild chicory – and in the spring, bunches of wild asparagus foraged in their woods. Now there is only Novella: like many a medieval centro storicio, the population of Assisi is diminishing as the young people go farther afield for jobs – and the number of farm women in the surrounding countryside has diminished, too. Novella is now the only contadina on the piazza. There used to be one other, Nazarena, but I haven’t seen her for some months. It seems that Novella’s produce is sufficient.
As husband Bruno, snipped thorns off their roses and arranged the blue and yellow irises in white plastic buckets along the wall behind their produce box, Novella weighed bunches of Swiss chard, spread out her mixed salad greens and put out carrot bunches and radishes alongside a pile of fava beans. A crate of luscious cherries – the first of the season – added a bright splash of red to the various shades of green. Needle-like agretti were squeezed in there, too…but the wild asparagus took center stage and I knew the few bunches she had would go fast: risotto agli asparagi selvatici, frittata di asparagi, pasta agli asparagi – who can resist? And we all know that the wild asparagus season – for all practical purposes – is over.
I didn’t ask Novella the price for this woodland delicacy as I would be picking the last of the wild aspargus in our woods later that day. The weather has turned warm, rains are infrequent now and any spindly shoots remainging in the woods will soon elongate into prickly unedible plants. Anyone going into the woods now, wears high rubber boots and carries a good-sized stick to push aside woodland growth, hopefully scaring away any snakes. When bending over to snap off the asparagus shoot, attenzione! – vipers slither under the cool rocks in the woods as the weather warms up.
I’ve never met a viper in all our years on the land – and the incomparable flavor of wild asparagus lures me into the woods every spring, viper risk or not!
Read about a wild-asparagus hunt in 1976
Click here to see a YouTube video of a wild asparagus hunt
Click here to see a YouTube video of wild asapargus frittata-making
Read more on wild asparagus passione