Wild Asparagus: a True Triestine Springtime Tradition

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by Alessandra Ressa

The last weekend the Carso woods were literally packed with elderly people holding plastic bags and perilously climbing steep, rocky, sunny areas off the main trails. Daring hikers enjoying the sunny day? 

Not at all. It was the wild asparagus hunt! No real Trieste dweller can resist the call of these dark, crunchy, bitter shoots that sprout in the most impervious, and often thorny areas of Carso. This is a seasonal must-do, no matter how poor the harvest. Even one single asparagus will make a marvelous frittata.

Triestini looking for wild asparagus off the trails of Opicina)

While young apprentices will often end up with a few short, embarrassing samples, elderly Triestini  are experts at picking wild asparagus. They know exactly when and where to go each year, and they won’t reveal their secret hunting grounds,  not even under torture. 

Warm, dry and sunny days in April are the right time for hunting, ideally right after the rain. An early morning start will ensure a rich booty as competition is fierce.

An elderly lady proudly shows her abundant harvest on Mount Valerio

No matter how hard you tried to find some sunny spot for peace and quiet last Saturday, you inevitably heard the cracking of twigs of hundreds of solitary walkers looking at you suspiciously from a distance. I learned that there is an understanding between asparagus hunters and that is to never, under no circumstance, approach another hunter and spoil their exploration.

This lady nearly fell off a cliff in Opicina to pick one particularly yummy sprout immediately after I took this picture. I helped her recover her scattered treasure which was her main worry although she was bleeding heavily from one hand (she also made sure I didn’t pocket any of her sprouts)

Mind you. Picking wild asparagus is not an easy thing. Not only do you risk your life on steep areas of Carso, but this delicious vegetable grows very near thorny bushes that will mercilessly your hands and arms. Not to mention the armies of hungry ticks ready for a spring feast. On top of all this, to be successful in your quest you need something that only Triestini seem to have the so-called ‘asparagus eye’.  This brownish green tiny shoot is very hard to spot and you need to be very well trained.

A good sized wild asparagus. I removed grass and thorns to be able to photograph it

As I decided to give it a go, it took me quite a while to adjust my sight and be able to spot my first sprout. And it was a fairly big one! I almost stepped on it before I realized it was actually a wild asparagus and not a twig.  

After that, I spotted a few more but figured they were too few to even bother storing them somewhere in my bag, so I ate them raw, ticks and all. They were actually quite good. On the way back home at sunset, I passed parking lots packed full of cars.

The lovely Napoleonica path had cars parked all along the trail. Everywhere, hordes of older ladies carrying thick bunches of wild asparagus in one hand and bouquets of flowers in the other were making their way back to the car followed by bored husbands.

Cars parked everywhere at sunset at the start of the Napoleonica trail last Saturday

Although it was my first time as a picker, I have often cooked and eaten wild asparagus in frittata or as a sauce for pasta. Before the borders with Slovenia closed down, you could find them sold at a reasonable price at stands along country roads.

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“Born to Italian-Scottish parents, an explosive combination, reason for my restlessness and love for good food, I’ve moved from San Francisco, California to Trieste 20 years ago. I have a degree in Mass Communication from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Master’s degree in International Cooperation from the Scuola Superiore di Studi Universitari in Pisa. In San Francisco I worked for several years as a journalist and press officer before moving to Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and other war stricken countries with the United Nations. I am a professional journalist and English teacher, I love the outdoors, exploring caves and unusual places, travelling, meeting people, the opera, singing, the scent of the sea and the whistle of the wind. No other city in the world other than Trieste can offer all this.”

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