I hope that Prince had a chance to notice the rise of purple foods in the final years of his life. Given his dedication to the color, as well as his vegetarian lifestyle, I assume the artist had his fill of old school purple foods like blueberries and purple potatoes. His personal chef, Ray Roberts, acknowledged that roasted beets were indeed one of his favorite foods.
But in recent years a purple wave of vegetables, including carrots, kale and cauliflower, has entered the culinary scene. These days there are ever more foods that have been bred for that royal hue, including artichokes, Brussels sprouts, peas, string beans, and even strawberries. Flipping through a seed catalog recently, I happened upon Purple Passion asparagus, which could could have served as Prince’s totem plant.
Not only is this asparagus purple (and passionate), but it’s purported to be more tender than its less purple cousins. Prince was famously sensitive as well, as Chef Roberts told the Minneapolis City Pages. Prince’s list of “no-no” ingredients included feta cheese and mushrooms. This is a list of someone who clearly did not care for the gamey side of food, and that same sensitivity to off-notes in food carried over to music as well. Even though I personally like all of his banned foods (not to mention meat), I realize that great artists tend to be sensitive, and picky; it’s part of being a perfectionist.
But despite his rules, from Prince’s body of work it appears that food had a way of bringing out his playful side. Food, to the Purple One, seemed to be as much an agent of beauty and whimsy as physical nutrition, as is evident in the song “Starfish and Coffee,” which I first heard on the Muppets. The song’s chorus details the preferred breakfast of a former classmate of Prince:
Starfish and coffee
Maple syrup and jam
Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine
And a side order of ham
Food, along with other human activities like dressing and loving, offered yet another avenue for Prince to be colorful. In “Raspberry Beret,” for example, food is used to describe the color of a hat. Chef Roberts reminisced that the few times he was ever chastised by Prince were for visual reasons, such as when a delivery box had a smudge on it, or when a cake was improperly placed in the fridge.
“His personal refrigerator was organized like it was staged for a photo shoot,” Roberts said.
It is not (like, not at all) surprising that Prince also made numerous sexual references to food in his music. His masterful “Cream” sounds like an exhortation to his listeners to have as many creamy orgasms as they can. But the lyrics tell a different creamy story, of what it takes to achieve success, and how successful people capitalize on the opportunities they are given. These messages are delivered by using the metaphor of cream as something that is perpetually seeking its way to the top.
On a personal level, “Cream” has become an anthem that I often play in my head, or even sing aloud, as I doctor my food with mayo or whipped cream. Adding cream to food, be it sweet or savory, will generally make it better. While this wasn’t the exact message of the song, I still take this truth that I extracted from it to be a sign of his brilliance.
I look at Prince’s anticipation of the purple foods movement in the same way. It’s probably a coincidence that the rise of purple foods came after Prince put the color on the map, and he certainly didn’t invent purple food any more than he invented cream. But at the same time, he prepared us love purple, which didn’t hurt the cause.
In addition to being visually striking, purple veggies are riding a wave of scientific approval. The hue is a result of high concentrations of antioxidant pigment molecules called anthocyanins, which have been shown to protect the brain against short-term memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases. Anthocyanins have also demonstrated promise in warding off cancer and reducing blood sugar, and are associated with longer, healthier lives.
“If I could eat only one color per day, it would be purple.”
These are not the words of Prince, alas. In fact, I couldn’t find any record of him speaking or singing about purple foods. The statement has instead been widely attributed to the neuroscientist James Joseph, of the Tufts University Human Nutrition Research center on aging, and reflects the enthusiasm in the health research community for “superfoods” like blueberries.
Prince had plans for a greenhouse and gardens at his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota, according to Chef Roberts. Had this happened, I can imagine a purple jungle would have grown at Paisley Park. But since he is gone, I’ll have to imagine what would have come next: mountains of purple vegetables, and meals of homegrown purple passion asparagus. With cream, of course, and zest.
Purple and Cream
One bunch purple asparagus (or normal asparagus, which will nonetheless have a purple hue near the tips)
One cup heavy cream
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons minced parsley (which sounds like Paisley)
1 tablespoon capers
salt and pepper
Step one: make the whipped cream. I recommend using the musical method, in honor of the artist. Pour the cream into a chilled, quart-sized mason jar. Put on a fast-paced song-I recommend “Let’s Go Crazy”-and start shaking along. After 3-5 five minutes you will cease to hear the sound of swashing cream in the jar, as it incorporates enough air to solidify.
Stir in the zest, parsley and capers, season with salt and pepper, and serve alongside steamed asparagus. This delightful yet simple combination makes a delicious complement to the asparagus, but if savory whipped cream strikes you as wrong, I’d invite you to consider two Prince lines, from “Starfish and Coffee” and “Cream,” respectively:
If you set your mind free baby, maybe you’ll understand.
Take a chance, it will only make you stronger.
In food, as in love and life, these bits of advice will get you far. Rest in Purple, Prince, and thanks for everything.