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Baked asparagus a la Sacramento? Mystery solved

Sort of asparagus au gratin, "Baked asparagus a la Sacramento" goes back at least 84 years. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)
Great-grandmother's recipe a vintage taste of Golden State

The name automatically piqued my curiosity: “Baked asparagus a la Sacramento.” I had to try it, but first I had questions.

Where did this recipe come from? When was it printed? What made this veggie casserole distinctly Sacramentan?

This culinary mystery started with my great-grandmother Annie Bauld, who died before I was born. I found the neatly clipped recipe, printed on glossy paper and pasted to a yellowed index card in her recipe box that was passed on to me by my grandmother.

Start with fresh asparagus, broken into
1-inch pieces and steamed.
A native of the Great Lakes, Annie embraced all things Californian after she moved west with her young family in 1906. Her recipe box is full of ways to cook the bounty of fresh vegetables and fruit she found in the Golden State. (On the back of the baked asparagus is a handwritten recipe for baked eggplant.)

Sort of asparagus au gratin, Baked asparagus a la Sacramento is credited to “Mrs. L.F., Sacramento, California,” hence (most likely) the name. Also with the clipping is a suggested menu for “A Good Little Dinner”: Baked asparagus, broiled ham, sliced tomatoes with horseradish sauce, bread and butter, plum jam, strawberry rice and coffee. (I have no idea what was “strawberry rice.”)

Intrigued, I set out to find the asparagus recipe source, asking others for advice. Had they ever heard of Sacramento-style baked asparagus? (All said no.) A friend recalled that the recipe format with the menu suggestion was similar to one used by
Sunset magazine during the 1930s. Sure enough, that was it; the recipe was originally printed by Sunset circa spring 1935.

I still don’t know the identity of “Mrs. L.F.,” but she was a thrifty and resourceful cook. Her notes with this recipe read: “This is very delicious. Should there be any leftover, heat in a double boiler with milk to thin it to the desired consistency, and you will have an equally delicious soup.”

Layer sauce, asparagus and
sliced eggs in casserole dish.
I haven’t tried the soup conversion yet, but her Baked asparagus a la Sacramento turned out to be a very tasty side dish indeed. Rich and creamy, it tastes special and is a worthy salute to its hometown.

Note: Since the asparagus is broken into 1-inch pieces, thinner spears work best.

Baked asparagus a la Sacramento

Serves 4

1 pound fresh asparagus, washed

3 hard-boiled eggs

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

1 cup soft bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup dried buttered crumbs

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Break or cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Steam until tender.

Cook, cool and shell the eggs. Slice.

Make a cream sauce with the butter, flour and milk. (Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in flour until bubbly, then gradually add milk. Cook until sauce starts to thicken.) Add the soft bread crumbs and seasoning.

In a buttered casserole dish, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom, then a layer of the cooked asparagus, then a layer of the sliced hard-cooked eggs. Repeat until the dish is filled.

Sprinkle the top with the dried buttered crumbs and the grated cheese. Cover and bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees) for 30 minutes, removing the lid the last 10 minutes to allow the top to brown lightly.

Serve warm.

(Adapted from Sunset magazine)

Baked asparagus a la Sacramento is a rich and creamy side dish.


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A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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