Alcott · Little Women

Jo’s Boiled Asparagus & Potatoes

Author: Alcott, Louisa May
Book: Little Women
Difficulty rating: Harry Potter
Deliciousness rating: Acceptable

Part of Miko’s Solo Challenge: Jo’s Standing Joke of a Dinner

Language cannot describe the anxieties, experiences, and exertions which Jo underwent that morning, and the dinner she served up became a standing joke. Fearing to ask any more advice, she did her best alone, and discovered that something more than energy and good will is necessary to make a cook. She boiled the asparagus for an hour and was grieved to find the heads cooked off and the stalks harder than ever …. The potatoes had to be hurried, not to keep the asparagus waiting, and were not done at the last. (92)

Did it measure up?

Not bad. Taking Jo’s failures as hints, I timed carefully to make sure the potatoes had a good half-hour to cook. The potatoes were done and I put plenty of salted butter and pepper on them — that’s thankfully all you need to make boiled potatoes delicious. Luckily, I had once made a salmon en croute when I was feeling fancy, so I had experience boiling up asparagus. Thus, I knew that Jo’s asparagus stalks had remained hard because she hadn’t trimmed them. Unluckily, I overestimated the boiling time (which I had Googled for the salmon en croute and then promptly forgotten afterward), so I overcooked them a bit. They were edible — they were just too soft and floppy. FYI — 8 minutes is too long!




  • Large pot
  • Water (I used a full pot the way you’d do for pasta, but Google tells me that you actually only need a few inches)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
  • Butter
  • Black pepper


1. Trim the asparagus. Jenne had shown me this trick a while ago — where the asparagus naturally snaps off is where you should trim it:

2. Bring salted water in the pot to a roiling boil.

3. Throw the asparagus in and boil for much shorter than 8 minutes, which was what I did. The asparagus was overdone, although not as badly as Jo’s. The internet says 5 minutes for medium and 7 for jumbo.

4. Drain well and put on a plate.

5. Top liberally with butter and black pepper.




  • 8-10 new potatoes
  • Large pot full of water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Butter
  • Black pepper


1. Scrub the potatoes clean.


2. Remove the eyes. (This is something my mother always told me to do; I’m not sure how necessary this step is.)


3. Add the salt in the pot of water and stir.

4. Put the potatoes in the pot — the water level should be an inch or two higher than the potatoes.


5. Bring the pot to a boil and keep at a strong simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. They’re done if you can poke a fork easily into them.

6. Drain the potatoes well and put them in a bowl.


7. Eat with lots of butter and pepper. Or the super-awesome Little Women dressing.

Alcott, Louisa. Little Women. Reprint. 1896. New York: Viking Penguin Inc, 1926.

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