Spring time in Denver can be a precarious time, especially if you happen to be a sensitive flower. If someone planted you within the last couple of weeks, during the recent tee-shirt and sandal spell, you would now be a wilted thing and sadly, out of luck: destined to be turned over and forked under the cold, soaked soil, because we just had a late mother of a snow storm.
The mercury dropped five or six degrees below freezing last night. There’s a four-inch blanket of snow on the beds. We are worried sick about the wisteria blossoms—
not to mention the peach tree— even our gnarled grape-vine might not be immune, for this is nature in Colorado at its finest, and at its cruelest.
But then there are the survivors: those savvy souls who seemingly have the skills to handle anything that nature flings at them.
In our garden, those would be mint, oregano and Egyptian walking onions. These are the first to proudly announce the arrival of spring. Immune to the vagaries of weather, all three are energetic, bordering on aggressive, garden players.
Addicted to multiplying, you just never know where they’ll shoot up next. The onions walk and strut like cocks of the garden, dropping their seed where they will, while the mint plots and burrows with certainty beneath the surface; it pops up and colonizes everything in its path. Hardy warriors of the garden, they like to spread themselves thick and if you give them an inch — well you know where this is going.
While the onions still feel like winter fare to me, it is always the young mint and oregano shoots that herald the arrival of warmer weather and the pleasures of outdoor eating. And with these young leaves you can make an invigorating pesto to go along with the most delightful expression of spring: the asparagus spear.
Speaking of which, I just planted a patch. Actually two years ago now. You let them grow into tall attractive ferns until autumn and then you cut them back.
Do this for two years they say, and by the third you can plate them. You harvest the spears when they are about 8 inches in length. You can eat them for two to three weeks. And they can return for up to twenty years. I can’t wait.
Meanwhile there is fabulous fresh asparagus to be had at local farmers markets and at some area supermarkets.
Asparagus with mint pesto and a poached egg makes a satisfying light lunch: for something a little more substantial, with the fire already going, you could grill a few mushrooms, zucchini and a little skirt steak. Just brush with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
And next year, if all goes according to plan, we’ll have a fourth garden player to help us celebrate the onslaught of spring.
I don’t have an exact recipe. Just gather a couple of handfuls of mint and less than a handful of oregano, or just use mint. Remove the leaves, rinse and spin in a salad spinner, or however you want to do it. Crush some garlic, as much as you like, with a little sea salt and add the mint and oregano leaves (if using) and pound them mercilessly to a paste while working in about 1/4 cup of olive oil in batches as you pound. Add about two handfuls of pine nuts and crush them with determination, but leave a few off the hook. Scrape out the mortar, store the pesto in a jar with a little olive oil poured on top. Finish it sooner than later and return to the garden— or where ever you can scam some free mint— for more. If you don’t have a mortar, you can make the pesto quite easily in a blender or a food processor, it won’t have the vintage feel, but it’ll still be pretty damn good.