Asparagus was brought to America by European settlers sometime in the 18th century. Abigail Adams, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson all learned to appreciate asparagus and grew it on their home farms.
In the first American cookbook, published in 1796, Amelia Simmons calls asparagus “an excellent vegetable” and wisely cautions against overcooking it: “by over-boiling they will lose their heads.” She suggested serving asparagus over toast, pouring a little melted butter over it, and garnishing it with bits of fresh orange.
Affluent Victorians, who believed in conspicuous consumption, had individual asparagus tongs for each place setting as well as special asparagus platters and baskets.
I found a delicious recipe for asparagus soup in Fanny Farmer’s 1896 “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.” The original recipe called for veal broth or chicken broth as the base. Veal was still the cheap meat in 1896, so it was often used for soup stock. Then she listed canned asparagus. Today, few people making soup from scratch would use canned green vegetables. But when she was writing, fresh asparagus was available briefly, just when it was in season locally.
The emerging canned food industry and food processing in general got a big boost from the Civil War. The Union Army provisioned soldiers with mass-produced canned salt beef and pork and desiccated (dried) vegetables, called “desecrated vegetables” by the soldiers.
Home canning jars with replaceable rubber rings and glass lids held by metal clamps were recent inventions. Women were canning vegetables, pickles and preserves at home. Refrigerators and refrigerated trucks were still in the future, so fruits and vegetables from Mexico and California were not available.