Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 16, 2013

Asparagus stars at Empire fest

BY CYMBRE FOSTER Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — There will be asparagus in the beer and the bratwursts and the soups and the sandwiches at the 10th annual Empire Asparagus Festival Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18.

“We keep everything food- and asparagus-oriented,” said festival coordinator Paul Skinner. “The dish must have asparagus and they should use Norconk’s (asparagus farm).”

In fact, unless there’s asparagus in the recipe, it’s not allowed under the food tent at the quirky event that drew nearly 3,000 people last year to this tiny berg on the shores of Lake Michigan in Leelanau County.

The festival is designed to promote locally grown food and food vendors.

“We want to give locals a festival to come out and enjoy on their own doorstep,” said Skinner.

It’s come a long way since the first one in 2003, when volunteers ladled out just five gallons of asparagus soup under a 20-by-20-foot tent.

This year, the festival weekend kicks off with a dance and pig roast from 7-10 p.m. Friday. The pig roast is provided by Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, with beer from Right Brain Brewery of Traverse City. The Benzie Playboys will provide music.

Saturday morning festivities get underway with a 5K fun run/walk. Registration is $10 and the walk begins at 10 a.m. The Asparagus Recipe Contest cook-off follows at 11 a.m. At 2 p.m., local bards will be strutting their stuff at “The Ode to Asparagus” asparagus poetry competition at the Empire Township Hall.

The annual parade heads down Empire’s main street at 4 p.m. There’s no entry fee, but you need to be giving a nod to asparagus in some way.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ,you can belly up to the food, beer and wine tables to sample all things asparagus. More than a dozen food vendors will be there and a $2 entry fee will get you in on the goodies.

Deering’s Market will once again bring their popular asparagus brats and Harry and Barbara Norconk will be selling their fresh asparagus for $2 a pound. They grow on 35 acres on Aral Road at the northern edge of Benzie County.

Harry estimates that they will sell some 1,000 pounds of the fat green spears this season, weather permitting.

The Friendly Tavern in Empire will serve up assorted pizzas by the slice topped with items like asparagus, pine nuts and prosciutto. They’ll also have croissants stuffed with ham, cheese and asparagus and a vegetarian version with asparagus and lemon and an assortment of wraps featuring asparagus.

Scalawags Fish and Chips in Traverse City will be serving up an asparagus gumbo.

“I call it Empire okra,” joked Scalawags owner Jamie Washburne. The gumbo also contains chicken, Andouille sausage and rice with a dark roux.

The restaurant will have fish tacos with an asparagus pico de gallo on their menu.

On Saturday at 7 p.m., the Finale Fun Food kicks off with fresh local food prepared by Empire’s own Joe’s Friendly Tavern and you can wash it down with a Right Brain Brewery brew. They’ll be bringing their asparagus melon salad to the dinner Saturday night as well as marinated cherry jerk chicken thighs served on a bed of quinoa asparagus salad and an asparagus ratatouille served over smashed Yukon gold potatoes.

The weekend wraps up with the annual Empire Eagles breakfast on Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon at the Empire Township Hall.

For more information, visit the Empire Chamber website at

Barbara Norconk’s Pickled Asparagus

6 clean, large-mouth 1/2-gallon jars, sterilized by rinsing in boiling water

6 new lids and rings, washed and sterilized in boiling water

7 lbs. cleaned asparagus (see note)

6 c. pickling vinegar

8 c. water

4 T. canning salt

6 t. garlic powder

6 t. mustard seed

6 t. poppy seed

6 t. fennel seed

6 t. celery seed

6 t. caraway seed

6 T. dried dill

3 fresh jalapeño peppers, cut in half lengthwise

12 cloves garlic, peeled

Bring vinegar, water and canning salt to a boil and simmer on medium.

While brine is coming to a boil, pack whole asparagus spears in jars as tightly as possible. Add 1 teaspoon of the following to each filled jar: Garlic powder, mustard seed, poppy seed, fennel seed, celery seed, caraway seed. Then add 1 tablespoon of dried dill, half of a fresh jalapeño pepper and 2 cloves of garlic to each jar. Pour hot brine over filled jars to 3/4 inch of jar top. Place lid and ring on top and seal. Jar lids should pop and seal as brine cools. Asparagus should be ready to eat in 2 to 3 weeks.

Note: To clean asparagus, turn spears upside down and swish in warm water for 15 seconds. This will cause the tips to open slightly and the sand to fall out. Rinse entire spears a second time in warm water. Place spears on a towel to drain.

—Norconk Asparagus Farm

Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

1 lb. fresh Michigan asparagus

8 to 10 strips bacon

Wash and trim asparagus spears. Cut bacon strips in half crosswise. Wrap 1/2 strip bacon around each asparagus spear, leaving tip and end exposed. Lay on a cookie sheet with sides. Bake in a preheated 400° oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until bacon is cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 16 to 20 spears.

--Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board

Cream of asparagus soup

1 can (14.5 or 15 oz.) Michigan Asparagus cuts and tips (or use cooked fresh asparagus)


1/4 c. finely chopped onions

1/4 c. margarine or butter

1/4 c. flour

1/2 t. salt

1 t. chicken bouillon

Drain asparagus, reserving liquid. Add enough milk to liquid to measure 4 cups; set aside. In food processor or electric blender, puree asparagus; set aside.

In 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft but not brown. Stir in flour, salt and bouillon. Add milk mixture and asparagus, stirring until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Cook and stir 1 minute longer. Remove from heat; serve hot. Garnish with cooked asparagus spears if desired. Makes 5 1-cup servings.

—Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board

Pesto Chicken Pasta

8 oz. uncooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta

2 c. cut-up fresh or frozen asparagus

3 c. (12 oz.) cubed, cooked chicken

1 c. halved cherry tomatoes

1/3 c. chopped red onion

1 (2.25-oz.) can sliced ripe olives, well drained

3/4 c. prepared pesto

3 T. freshly shredded or grated Romano cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions; rinse and drain.

Steam or microwave asparagus until tender crisp. Drain. Combine cooked pasta and asparagus in a large bowl. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, onion and olives. Gently toss with pesto. Serve warm, garnished with cheese. Refrigerate leftovers; they make a great lunch. Makes 6 servings.

Note: 1 (14.5-oz.) can asparagus cuts and tips, well drained, can be substituted for fresh or frozen asparagus in this recipe. Heat asparagus for 1 to 2 minutes in a microwave before combining with cooked pasta.

—Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board