• Once established, this hardy perennial keeps giving for up to 30 years. ( Juan Naharro Gimenez / Getty Images)Source: Juan Naharro Gimenez / Getty Images
It might require patience to get established, but once it's up and growing, this loyal vegie sticks around for generations. Much like those who farm it.
By
Bron Maxabella

28 Jun 2021 - 10:40 AM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2022 - 8:02 AM

--- Watch Australia's Food Bowl with Stefano de Pieri Sundays at 8pm on SBS Food and streaming free at SBS On Demand. ---

 

The Minter family have been growing asparagus in Iraak near Mildura Victoria since 1927 when Garry Minter's great-great grandfather Frank first planted the Connivers Collosal variety. You simply don't grow asparagus as a short-term thing.

Asparagus officinalis is a perennial in the lily family. There are male and female asparagus plants, with the male producing the best quality spears, but the female producing the seeds you need to produce the next crop.

Each crop of asparagus takes up to four years to become strong enough to grow to maturity and make good eating. Once established, though, asparagus just keeps on going. A plant can live for up to 30 years and it's not unusual to find wild asparagus growing in abandoned paddocks and along riverbanks.

Find the recipe here.

Wild times led to cultivation

This was exactly how Frank Minter got started in asparagus farming. He found wild asparagus growing in ditches on his farm, packed it up and put it on a train to be sold in at the markets in Melbourne.

The success of his wild punt led him to cultivate asparagus between the fruit vines that were his main crop at the time. The asparagus growing up the middle of his dried fruit crop soon became a cash crop and he expanded.

A plant can live for up to 30 years and it's not unusual to find wild asparagus growing in abandoned paddocks.

"Then in 1973, the 747 came on the scene." Darren Minter recalls on Australia's Food Bowl. "The Japanese pricked their ears up because of the 747 and we've been flying to Japan ever since."

Exporting the healthy green

What the Minter's have been flying is four different varieties of asparagus. Japan is the biggest export market for Aussie asparagus, most of which is grown along the Murray-Darling river. The family also export to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, but it's Japan that can't get enough of this healthy green vegie.

Find the recipe here.

One of the Minters most enduring export asparagus varieties is known as Ida Lea, a crop that's now planted extensively throughout the Sunraysia area. The Minters have also dabbled in producing their own variety, dubbed the "Minter variety".

To grow asaparagus, you need a well-drained, friable, rich soil - just like that found across the Murray-Darling basin. Asparagus is a hungry feeder, so adding truckloads of organic matter to the soil is a must.

A born recycler

The beauty of asparagus for the region is that it's salt tolerant. Darren explains that something like a citrus tree will put all the toxins into the leaf and then "throws the salt off onto the ground again".

"Where asparagus is unique, [in] not drinking it," he says. "So it's like, you'll have wet ground, but it won't drink the water because it's too salty."

At Minter Magic they lay terracotta drains six feet down in the soil to channel the salty water into a salt evaporation basin. The water is then recycled back onto the asparagus.

And very tolerant crop

The ability to recycle water for asparagus makes it an excellent drought-tolerant crop. 

"It can drink a lot or it can drink very little, depending on the time of what you want to do," says Darren.

[Asapargus] won't drink the water because it's too salty.

He points out that even though you could effectively leave asparagus without water for a period of time, it's no something he advises. If you want to produce an economically viable crop, it still needs regular watering. So, extended drought, as the region has been experiencing for years, has been a problem for the asparagus farmer.

Picked and packed in a hurry

There's also the issue of asparagus' fragile nature. It might be a robust, long-term grower, but pick it and you need to move fast. Once harvested, the highly-perishable vegetable needs to be quickly and carefully packaged and transported.

Darren's son Garry manages the packing shed and will one day take over the farm. Just as Darren took over from Geoff, and Geoff took over from Norm, who took over from Frank who planted that first crop of asparagus almost one hundred years ago.

A fitting lineage for a vegetable that has patience built directly into its DNA.

Get cooking
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A wonderful addition to a Mediterranean spread, this dish can also be served warm as a simple dinner with some garlic bread.

Risotto with white asparagus and pancetta

Don’t be tempted to remove the fattier part of the pancetta; the fat melts when it is heating, and these wonderful oils will later infuse the rice. It adds a depth of flavour that really makes the dish.

Roast chicken and asparagus tart

Chicken and asparagus make a wonderful pair. In Denmark, little chicken and asparagus tarts are often made with boiling chickens that have been used for soup.

Scallops, bacon and asparagus

This is a Western-style stir-fry, with a rich salty flavour from the rendered speck and seared scallops. The asparagus and apple cider vinegar cut through to provide a crisp, fresh contrast.

Asparagus, pea and mint frittata muffins

A lovely portable lunch. Serve warm or cold with a generous salad or freshly cooked greens.

Grilled asparagus with vegetable crumble

Asparagus served in the classic way is delicious, but I wanted to mix the flavours of the spring with the warmer flavours and textures of the summer. I’ve spiced things up a little with the slight smokiness that comes from griddling or barbecuing asparagus, a large sprinkling of smoked paprika and a hint of chilli.

Asparagus and shiitake tart

This lard shortcrust pastry is savoury and very short – the kind my mum made for pretty much every purpose when I was growing up. Even with a dessert, an unsweetened pastry like this is just the trick.

Potato, asparagus and egg salad

I loved steamed eggs. They’re easier and cleaner to make than boiled eggs and I think they have a more delicate texture. This simple potato salad can all be made in one steamer.

Asparagus, polenta and feta pie (kourkouto)

Rich, cheesy and textured with polenta, this Greek-style quiche is gluten free and delicious served hot or cold, which makes it perfect for picnics or lunch boxes the next day. It's an easy recipe that is sure to become a favourite in your home.

Asparagus frittata

A quick and simple one-pan option, this asparagus frittata is perfect for breakfast or as a light meal. Multiply the quantities of the ingredients for extra serves.