For three days, 129 non-profit organizations of San Joaquin County kept the 2013 Asparagus Festival exciting and active. After our experience yesterday, we were so happy to attend a festival today that heartily celebrated the food in the event’s name.
Asparagus is part of the lily family; if not harvested, eventually the tip of the stalk flowers. It is a liver protector, we learned, and an excellent hangover cure because of that – important information for many of the revelers out today.
Multiple stages with big bands (like Gin Blossoms!) and local talent, shopping vendors, children’s activities, dog agility competitions, paddleboats, and a sea lion exhibit were some of the non-asparagus things entertaining the masses, just like there was lots of non-asparagus food. But there was plenty of asparagus-loaded food, and we eagerly tried it all!
The Asparagus Festival takes up a HUGE part of Stockton, and we were lucky enough to find the last parking spot in a private lot that was close(ish) to an entrance. All the same, it required a little bit of walking to get to the booth to buy food and beverage tickets ($1 per ticket, and most items were 3-6 tickets). Not long after getting our first batch of tickets, and well before making our way to Asparagus Alley where all the non-profits were working to serve up asparagus fare, we found a stand of margarita machines. These weren’t typical, of course; why are we here again? Yes, we tried an asparagus margarita brought by The Margarita Man! Honestly the asparagus taste was very, very mild, as likely the alcohol helps to cancel out the chlorophyll. But it was refreshing and quenching on this hot day in the valley.
Sweet Delights, which normally does standard event food, made sure to bring asparagus items. The asparagus sliders were delightful, something that we would eat in real life if available. The slider patties were essentially like asparagus fritters or mini veggie burgers with an asparagus base. From being fried, the exterior was thin and crispy and the inside was a delicate texture. Ripe, sweet tomatoes and fresh mixed greens were simple toppings, sandwiched in little soft French rolls. An added bonus was the pesto aioli spread, a much better pairing than something like plain mayonnaise would have been.
Also from Sweet Delights, the asparagus gyro was served more like a pizza, even being sliced into four quarters. It started with a pesto base covered in gooey mozzarella, then more of the same ripe, sweet tomatoes, and grilled asparagus that maintained just a little bit of natural crunch. For how simple it was, it was a great vegetarian flatbread pizza.
Sweet Delights went above and beyond, even bringing asparagus lemonade. We never would have come upon this idea ourselves because it just doesn’t seem normal, but folks, it works. It was made with real lemons, wasn’t overly sweet, and had a nice, mild, asparagus aftertaste.
We made our way to Asparagus Alley, where groups of fraternity brothers, AT&T associates, and community members worked together under huge tents to accommodate the demand for asparagus. Asparagus burritos were made with steak and refried beans, served with a side of scratch salsa. The steak was freshly grilled, tender, and very flavorful; the asparagus was also grilled, and the beans were homemade. It was a really good burrito, and if in a taquería, it’s something that we would order.
Like a hoagie and with the same steak as the burrito, the asparagus sandwich was just as tasty. Instead of refried beans, it had grilled onions which were cooked just right. Throw some cheese on here, and it would be an excellent version of a Philly cheesesteak. August wanted more, but we had to be responsible and eat just a little so that we could try other things, as well.
The asparagus pasta was like the pasta salad August grew up with, except with asparagus. Fresh tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cracked black pepper, and grilled asparagus made for a great mix that we’ll likely recreate at home. Hearty but light, refreshing and filling, this would be good for a side dish or a main entree.
Deep fried asparagus, being the most familiar item, was undoubtedly the most popular, and the event planners knew it would be so they planned accordingly. This is just a fraction of the area cordoned off for making batches of hot stalks.
So of course we tried some, but they fell a little flat. We don’t blame the volunteers, we know it’s tough working like they were, but to be honest we got to try a stalk fried in lumpia, gifted to us by the Margarita Man at the start of the day, and that was awesome.
Like the asparagus lemonade, asparagus strawberry shortcake is not something we thought we’d ever see. And also like the lemonade, it really works. The pound cake (yes, there was a little bit under there) was fresh and rich, and we only wish there was more of it. The strawberries were ripe and in a decadent syrup, the whipped cream was made with real cream, and blanched asparagus bits provided color and flavor. In Zach’s opinion, forget that it’s asparagus – it’s no different than adding a little mint to your dessert. Not saying that asparagus tastes like mint, but you get it. It’s a garnish, and it was good.
Finally, what everyone wants to know about: we present the asparagus ice cream. With a rich, creamy, vanilla base, this was light with asparagus flavor. Don’t let the deep green color fool you. It’s more of a novelty, but it was still yummy. There were no unhappy children eating this! If you have a hard time introducing your kids to new foods, this would be a great way to do it.
What a day! We barely scratched the surface, since we came on Day 3 and with only two of us, we couldn’t be in enough different places to catch it all. For example, it would have been nice to see the professional chef competition or the asparagus eating challenge, but now we know to plan for more time to dedicate next year. With lots of kids stuff, many crafts booths, and plenty of alcohol stands, there really was something for everyone here.