We don’t mean Elvis, nor the royal Home of the Whopper. We’re talking about the German King of Vegetables where it’s (hold onto your Lederhosen) White Asparagus Season. Germans are a happy Volk of eaters especially with the arrival of SPARGEL, a ghostly-white stalk that announces Winter is over! It’s the first ground crop to grace the spring table.
“Spargel is the essence of spring. It means summer is coming,” according to Susanna Heydasch, the author’s neighbor and Spargel connoisseur. “Variations of Spargel appear on local menus, even in the senior home where I work. A favorite among my residents is a creamy white asparagus crepe, a specialty of Lake Constance.”
Spargel is ubiquitous around Germany until June 24th. Then with the wave of a magic wand, the season officially ends with Prussian precision. Spargel’s short season makes it all the more precious.
Germans rarely display emotion, but for some reason, this shy vegetable elicits great passion. Never turn down an invitation to eat Spargel at someone’s home. It’s an honor! Germans discuss the Spargelsaison like we debate sports. How far did you drive to buy your Spargel? I go to Geiger’s farm, he sings to his Spargel! Which grade did you buy? I only buy Grade 1 when we have guests over, but for soups I use broken tips that don’t make the grade. Meine Mutter would never drown hers in hollandaise, we only use butter…and so on. The many nuances baffle outsiders.
Describing Spargel to Americans isn’t easy; we’re mostly familiar with the green variety. But let’s try this metaphor: imagine a graceful, elegant ballerina. Muscular yet tender, she skims along the buttery surface of your plate. Her luminous and ephemeral beauty captures the
imagination with every bite. How does this sweet, otherworldly flavor come out of a pile of dirt? It’s simply amazing. And the best dance partner is of course a fresh, young German Riesling or a Lake Constance Rosé. Encore!
Pillars of the Earth
You will find this earthly delight throughout the Germanic world and even France, where the Gauls reluctantly admit something so delicate and lovely could come from their easterly neighbors. It was the Romans’ refined taste for the green variety that originally brought the medicinal plant to the Barbarians. Centuries later, the Germans kicked it up a notch by developing a new agricultural technique for harvesting the subterranean whites. The only difference between the white and green is that the Weisser Spargel never sees the light of day. No sun. No chlorophyll. No green. And therein lies the flavor difference. The green has a nuttier, stronger, distinctly different flavor. They are like twins. The same, yet different.
And why is the white much more expensive at 12 Euros per kilo? Because harvesting each stalk is both time and labor intensive. Workers walk up and down the rows of high raised beds looking for surface cracks. Achtung! A crack means a shoot is ready to pop through the dirt which calls for action—schnell, schnell. A swift cut deep into the dark mound with the long trowel and the ivory prize goes into the basket.
Spargel is good for you, without all that butter of course. It’s easily digestible, high in fiber, vitamins, low in calories and a must-have in spring cleanse diets. Rumored to have aphrodisiacal properties, it was said to be the favorite vegetable of King Louis the 14th.
If it’s good enough for a King, then it’s good enough for all of us. Enjoy the spring wherever you are!
Traditional Asparagus Dinner
German white asparagus is quick and easy to make. Boiled new potatoes are a must. Drizzle Spargel and your steaming peeled potatoes with melted butter. Add deli ham or Prosciutto cold or warm. A dry white wine or beer rounds out the meal.
- 1 lb. white asparagus per person, cleaned and peeled
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. sugar
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
Peeling: VERY IMPORTANT Unlike the green version, White Asparagus must be peeled or you will be chewing on woody strings. Also, cut the ends off about a inch from the stalk end. Peel downward from the top, just below the floret down the stem. This is a gentle motion that might take some time to master. It’s easy to break the spargel. The thicker the skin is, the more of it must be peeled away. Use a potato peeler, paring knife, or a special Spargel peeler.
Use a pot (never aluminum) wide enough to hold the PEELED asparagus lying down. Fill pot three-quarters with water. Add the salt and sugar and bring the water to a gentle boil. Turn down heat so that water is simmering. Close the pan with the lid.
Boil the asparagus 8 to 10 minutes or until soft enough to your liking. Remove from pan, drain and place on a preheated serving tray. Serve immediately with ham, melted butter and new, boiled potatoes. Remember: the Germans always peel the skins off their boiled potatoes.