Asparagus, both wild and cultivated, graced the tables of rich and poor alike before 20th-century agriculture came along. Though native to Europe, it has escaped cultivation and has naturalized all over the world. Once asparagus gets started, it produces for many, many years to come. For the best flavor, buy tender young asparagus.

Bend each stalk of asparagus near the base. The end will snap off just at the point above the woody part. Tie a bundle of the vegetables together with twine and place, tips up, in a tall pot with 3 or 4 inches of boiling water, covered. Take them off the fire the instant that the tips become tender, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the stalks. The tips will have steamed and the thick bases boiled perfectly. Remove the asparagus immediately, untie the bundle, and serve hot with melted butter; or spread the stalks out on a kitchen towel to cool and serve as a salad with peanut dressing.