Every season has its own staple fruit or vegetable, for instance when you see pumpkins start to hit the supermarket shelves, you know that autumn is here. In Germany, seeing asparagus (Spargel) in supermarkets, roadside stalls and as newly added special to restaurant menus, it means spring is here! In this post, you can find out more about this craze as well as tips for choosing good asparagus or some simple meal ideas.
Spargelzeit and Consumption in Germany
Typically, the season for harvesting and eating white asparagus begins around mid-April and exactly ends on 24th June, St. John the Baptist Day. Within this period 70.000 tons of asparagus is consumed in Germany. Asparagus is rich in nutrients and very low in calories (it contains Vitamins A, E, K, as well as calcium, potassium, iron, and 2% protein, 4% carbohydrates and only 0.2% fats). Within time this humble-looking vegetable has become a culinary status symbol for many Germans.
Since ancient times asparagus has been cultivated by Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. Documentarily it is indicated that the roots of German asparagus were found somewhere around Stuttgart, where it has been raised since the 1500s. In the old days, it was planted exclusively for the royal and ducal Baden-Wurttemberg courts. Therefore, it is sometimes called ‘royal vegetable’, ‘white gold’ or ‘edible ivory’.
It takes three years for an asparagus plant to produce its first tip. White asparagus is produced in knee-high soil banks which also give the fields their characteristic appearance. Since it grows surrounded by earth the slender stalks are not exposed to sunlight thus not turning green. No photosynthesis means no green colour. This also affects the subtle flavour of it. Asparagus grows best in sandy soil and is cultivated in almost all federal states as well as in neighbouring countries.
Germany’s Asparagus Road
Lower Saxony and Baden-Wurttemberg are the two most famous asparagus growing regions. There are even asparagus road tours you can take to discover the areas and villages the vegetable is produced. The Baden route runs through the towns of Schwetzingen, Reilingen, Karlsruhe, and Rastatt. Many of the towns along these routes hold annual Spargelfest that attracts visitors from all over. During these festivals, it is possible to taste delicious dishes as well as to witness Spargel queen and king awards, the fastest asparagus peeler contests, and live music.
How to Choose and Prepare Asparagus Correctly
If you prefer to keep it simple and just buy and cook your own asparagus here are a couple of tips for picking the best ones: freshness is the key to perfect flavour and texture. For this, you must look for stems that are firm, crisp and plump, and have the characteristic velvety sheen. The tips should be intact and firm, and a slight purple tinge is normal. If you don’t intend to cook them right away, wrap them in a damp kitchen towel and store in the refrigerator. Preparation always starts with washing the stalks, followed by peeling them with a vegetable peeler. The white variety is peeled downwards starting just below the tip. In contrast, green asparagus is usually peeled from the bottom towards the tip. The most common preparation calls for cooking the vegetable in a small amount of water for about 12-15 minutes. The water may be flavoured beforehand by adding some butter, salt, a pinch of sugar and the stems and peel left over from peeling. If you are using a regular pan, a good trick is to tie the stalks together using kitchen twine.
The Most Popular Spargel-based Meals
When it comes to asparagus, the less is more. So, usually, the meals are simple on purpose so as not to overpower the vegetable’s delicate flavour. Asparagus can traditionally be prepared with melted butter and potatoes (Spargel mit Butter), with ham (Spargel mit Schinken) or with hollandaise sauce (Spargel mit holländischer Sauce). Whichever one you choose, do not forget to enjoy the famous seasonal vegetable! PSA and a reminder: smelly urine is unavoidable after consuming asparagus; it is a price you have to pay, I guess. Here is a link if you are curious to know more about this (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-asparagus-makes-your-urine-smell-49961252/) but do not let it stop you from eating some delicious asparagus with butter!