Sunday, May 1, 2011

asparagus and family

My father, Jim Peters. would eventually grow up  to be a herpetologist. He studied at University of Michigan for his PhD, taught at a number of schools across the country, and eventually landed at the Smithsonian. At the time of his death he was Curator of the Division of Herpetology, and specialized in Neo-Tropical Squamata. You can still get used copies of his Dictionary of Herpetology on Amazon.

My fathers dad was a doctor: a small town, know your name and family sort of a doctor. Grandpa was from Greenup, IL, and was in practice there when my dad was in high school. My grandparents were big believers that children should work, and my dad did..a variety of activities, including keeping a number of reptiles and amphibians in the basement of the house and caring for them. Not my grandmother's favorite. One of the jobs my father had, and as he told it one of the reasons he went to school and studied so hard, was as an asparagus picker. Crouched close to the ground all day, day after day, he snapped asparagus stocks. Hot and dirty work. Acres of asparagus to be picked. The pay, as he told it, was incredible..after crouching and snapping, carrying heavy loads of asparagus all day long he made something like a nickel a day!

When I was a kid I never ate the stuff. It was too weird to me. Just looked odd, texture was strange. It was just a no for me. Iza ate it, but only when my father was not home. It seems like she would eat it with beef liver, another item he would not eat. Usually on a Friday night, when he was out with the POETS club. So my siblings and I would get out the Betty Crocker cookbook for kids and follow the recipes: a can of tuna, cream of mushroom soup and a bag of chips illustrated by diving into a pot, then into the oven for Tuna Casserole. Franks and beans. Pot Pies. Grilled Cheese. And the favorite: broiled bread with a slice of bologna, cheese and a pickle spear in between. That was living!

My father died at the age of 50. Younger than I am now. But I don't think he ever ate asparagus again after his farm hand experience. Homer put in 100 asparagus crowns last week and we are already getting shoots from them. Bought asparagus from 3 Springs Farm yesterday, bathed it in olive oil and put in on the grill until tender and a little crisp, not a speck left. And we can't wait for the years needed to establish the asparagus bed so we can eat it and share with our CSA members.

And to my dad.. I grew up and learned that asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables ever!


  1. Great post. Really great. And we know the asparagus story too, and we always remember Uncle Jim when we eat it (we actually like it).

  2. Great memories! As I remember another twist to Dad's story, too.

    He said he used to do all that picking for a nickel BEFORE school started, so he would then sit all day in the classroom smelling like asparagus. Another reason he hated it so much!

    And I really like it, too. :-D

  3. What did POETS stand for again?

    (I looove that picture. He looks like a cross between Uncle Budd & Uncle Jeff.)

  4. Another detail: since it was during the Depression, all the kids in the school picked asparagus to make much needed money. So the whole classroom reeked of asparagus.
    That photo indeed looks like it was taken during the Depression. I have seen similar ones in National Geographic.

  5. POETS club = Phooey On Everything, Tomorrow's Saturday

    Dad loved acronyms, almost as much as Budd loves puns!

    I pulled that pic from what seems to be his high school group class picture. Janie gave me the jpg, so not quite sure what year it is.

  6. POETS, as it was explained to me: Phooey On Everybody Tomorrows Saturday. I'm thinking the Phooey was cleaned up for my preteen ears. Iza can provide details on the location: my understanding is that it was the back room of a gay bar, the back room filled with scientists catching up, the bar filled with guys interested in a different science!



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