It’s a very busy time of year at Pendleton’s Kaw Valley Country Market in Lawrence. It’s asparagus season, and as they’ve been doing for more than 25 years, Karen and John Pendleton are selling thousands of pounds of the best asparagus I’ve ever had.
I made the short trek to Pendleton’s recently to pick up some asparagus, both green and purple — a new color taste sensation for me!
While there, I thought I’d check in with the Pendletons to see how the season was going.
“The season started with warmer-than-average weather, which got things going early. Then it got very rainy and quite cool. Now, it’s back to normal,” John told me as we rode the tractor out to the field. “We’ve gotten to expect the unexpected when it comes to the weather.”
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The land the Pendletons use for their asparagus and other crops came from John’s father. Albert Pendleton first farmed the land some 40 years ago — raising corn, wheat, soybeans and milo. Pendleton told me they also had a feedlot for about 500 head of cattle that were processed locally.
“Back then, you could do that because there were small feedlots and small cattle processing plants throughout Kansas. Then they discovered they could do everything on a much larger basis out in western Kansas and the smaller plants and feedlots shut down,” Pendleton shared.
Like a lot of other farmers during that time, the Pendletons looked for alternative crops. That led to a half-acre of asparagus, which led to a lot more asparagus along with a wide variety of other vegetables, bedding plants, and cut flowers.
Although not nearly as well known as the asparagus, the flowers are a big part of the Pendletons’ offerings. They have three acres of flowers, which are sold at the market or used in Karen’s floral business.
Still, if you mention Pendleton’s, most people think of their asparagus, which is prized by locals and championed by area chefs. Jasper Mirabile just raved about the asparagus in a recent Facebook post, and Jimi Martin, the chef at Free State Brewing Co., was buying asparagus for his kitchen as I visited.
So, just what is it about Pendleton’s asparagus that makes it so darned good? It really comes down to one word — freshness.
“When you pick our asparagus, it’s tender right down to the end of the stalk. But it will start to dry out, so you have to treat it like a flower and get it in some water,” Pendleton said.
I took his advice with the asparagus I picked, and he’s right, standing the asparagus up in a container with some water makes a big difference. It stayed fresher longer.
At the end of my time at Pendleton’s, I asked John if he ever gets tired of asparagus.
“Honestly, I don’t have time to cook, so we don’t eat a lot of our asparagus at home. We’re both so physically exhausted at the end of the day,” Pendleton said. No doubt. Farming is hard work, but also rewarding. After raising their three kids on the farm over the last 30 years, Karen and John Pendleton have a thriving, sustainable business.
And, oh that asparagus!
You can learn more about Pendleton’s Country Market at pendletons.com.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.