In general, I didn’t like living in California. On the other hand, in general it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I did end up living in the right place: Sacramento. It’s a pleasant little city conveniently located in the center of California. San Francisco was a day-trip away as were the mountains. Napa and Sonoma were convenient. And to my great surprise I liked the Central Valley.
California’s Central Valley is one of the most fertile areas in the world. The soil is essentially what’s mountain folk call bottom land — silt laid down by runoff from the mountains over hundreds of thousands of years. And the water that deposited the silt is still there creating a plain with thousands of streams and ponds and marshes. Fertile soil, plenty of water, and nearly endless sun make the area a farmer’s dream, and all summer long you see trucks, piled high with produce, filling the highways.
Not too far south of Sacramento
is Stockton, a small agricultural town — charming in an odd 20th century California way — and every spring Stockton hosts an asparagus festival. In fact, it was last weekend this year. As far as agricultural festivals go it’s pretty typical. I like going to such things but the truth is if you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all whether it’s asparagus in California, tomatoes in Tennessee, or apples in Michigan. The only real difference is in what’s featured and whether or not they do something interesting with it. Stockton does.
Stockton Fried Asparagus
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 egg whites
2/3 cup cold flat beer
3 pounds (2 cups) raw, whole asparagus, cleaned and cut above white end
Mix all ingredients except asparagus in a bowl with a wire whisk until well blended. Dip asparagus spears individually in the batter and deep fry them in at least 2 inches of peanut oil for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Dust generously with grated Parmesan cheese.
At the festival they fry huge asparagus spears, 5/8 – 3/4 inches in diameter at the base. These fat spears are supposed to be the best — and in fact I tend to agree they’re better than thinner spears — but they’re too damned fat to cook through when frying. But thin spears won’t work either. I recommend spears about 1/2 inch in diameter. I also recommend frying lots. Three pounds is about right for two asparagus lovers.