Asparagus & Fox Island

Sunset through the trees on Fox Island.

The Fox Island Marsh Conservation Area is amazing. While I’ve never seen an actual fox, I like saying ‘ Fox Island’ a lot, so I walk there frequently. 

Last December I was walking toward the town landing just past Whale Bone Point and I encountered a man pulling oyster cages from his grant. I was shooting photographs of a few fine, hand-made sailboats and he inquired whether they were mine. That got us talking, and over the course of things he told me he had some ‘wild asparagus’ growing on his property — and gestured over his shoulder. In turn I told him a little about the history of asparagus on the Outer Cape.

It’s hard to believe it today, but in the early 20th century Eastham was known as ‘the asparagus capitol of the world.’ In 1962, The Boston Globe reported:

The nation’s best asparagus was grown in Eastham in such quantity that, during the cutting season, two or three solid carloads of the delicious stuff was shipped up to the Boston market six days a week over the tracks of the Old Colony Branch.

Feral asparagus near Blackfish Creek.

By 1930, 230 acres of asparagus fields covered Eastham. As Elspeth Hay reports in this story for WCAI, the Eastham Historical Society’s oral history project from the late 20th century is punctuated by references to the crop. While I’ve recently learned that there are a lot of places that claim to be ‘the asparagus capitol of the world’ it’s still fairly wonderful to know that Eastham was renown for this crop.

Yesterday afternoon, I found the oysterman’s ‘wild asparagus’ — very likely a few roots gone feral over the years: just three stalks that are bolting. Nevertheless, there’s something romantic about them being so close to Blackfish Creek.

My little asparagus patch in Truro.

I’ve been trying to establish an asparagus patch of my own in Truro. It takes a few years for the roots to send up stalks of any size. My first three sets produced a couple of meals this spring, and I planted another dozen or so sets early in the spring. I won’t be producing a carload anytime soon, but hopefully in two years I’ll have abundance enough for me and my friends. 

I’ll also say, I rather like the showy display of asparagus leaves in my summer garden. They’re a gentle and billowy backdrop for the showier summer bloomers.

Whale Bone Point.

Fox Island is a joy to walk in the spring, summer, fall and winter — revealing different dimensions of the marsh and pitch pine / oak forest. It’s a quiet oasis to gather one’s thoughts, and a great place to have an intimate conversation with a friend. 

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