Asparagus season/Spargelzeit

I’ve mentioned before that the Germans are so fixated on asparagus that they claw it out of the naked earth before it is even ready to eat.

In Expatica, David Gordon Smith tells it like it is. Supposing you didn’t know the word Spargel and saw the excitement of the Germans, what would you expect?

bq. In the absence of your dictionary you are reduced to speculation. Is it caviar? Truffles? Puffer fish? Whatever it is, it must be exotic and exciting and well worth the extravagant sums the restaurant is demanding. …

bq. On the edge of your seat, you watch your plate approach across the room. As it is tantalisingly lowered onto your table, you spot some boiled potatoes, a slice of ham, and then, immersed in a golden lake of Hollandaise sauce, a few sprigs of … asparagus? Your slavering jaw drops. This is what all the excitement is about? This is what they are charging EUR 13.90 for?

The season ends on June 24th (is there a Spargelgesetz?), but other things have short seasons too. I like fresh peas, and many people like strawberries, but the excitement is no comparison. I wonder if there is some genetic reason why asparagus is so popular here?

Here is a site with photos showing the obligatory Eastern European asparagus picker (there was a scare this year that the government might make unemployed German persons help out) and the rape of the asparagus bed.

16 thoughts on “Asparagus season/Spargelzeit

  1. Although I am somehow “a German” myself – in the broadest sense – I have never understood the excitement about Spargel. Sure, I eat it every now and then, I even buy it canned if I can get it fresh, but then it is just another vegetable on my plate. I think Germans are so proud of Spargel because it grows in their own country (unlike some other vegetables that are imported from France and Spain). If I am not completely wrong you can’t grow Spargel everywhere, it needs a special kind of soil. So people travel great distances to get them fresh right after picking.

  2. Are they? Gosh, in the village I live in we even have a “festa dea sparasea” (which is dialect for asparagus feast/festival [?], more or less) on May 1st every year, but I never noticed the German tourists getting excited for the kind of vegetable itself, I am always so absent-minded :(
    Today I ate the first little bitty, delicious peas of the season, in a very traditional Venetian recipe: “risi e bisi” (rice and peas); it was a real treat, a privilege for the Doge di Venezia to eat a plate of risi e bisi with fresh peas :)
    Ciao Margaret!

  3. The British too seem very proud of their asparagus-growing skills. The BBC even reported on it yesterday. Although, the asparagus shown seemed exceedingly green to me. The first time I cooked asparagus, I didn’t know it needed to be peeled. It goes without saying that I too wondered what all the fuss was about.

    Paul

  4. Liseuse: I think you’ve corrected my idea: they are only interested in their own, homegrown asparagus. So there’s a sort of local pride in it, as Sonja said. I know it is best if it’s only just been harvested. There is a big growing area very close to here, called the Knoblauchsland, in Nuremberg and Fürth, but I have not succeeded in getting any good photographs.

    Paul: I have a feeling it’s the white stuff that needs all that peeling.

  5. Paul, I see on that page it says Germans do eat more asparagus than other Europeans: 1 kilo of foreign asparagus and 1.4 kilos of domestic asparagus per head per year. I think I may have had 100 grams, accidentally encountered in Leipziger Allerlei. But I suppose when I do eat asparagus, it might be half a pound or more.
    They mention someone who, instead of supplementing his asparagus growing with strawberries, is going for quails (Bio-Wachteln).

  6. How long should one cook/boil asparagus for Margaret? This thread prompted me to buy some (yellow – unpeeled) from my local Edeka. Should it be popped into boiling water or should the water be heated from cold? I don’t have one of those sophisticated asparagus pot thingies.

    Thanks
    Paul

  7. Boiling water for about 20 minutes, Paul, although the length of time does depend on the thickness of the asparagus. I can confirm that the green variety does not need to be peeled but the white does, the woody part of the stalk should be cut off in both cases.

    After 20 years of womanfully eating asparagus I “came out” last year and confessed that I don’t like it. It may be healthy but there are other foods which are healthy and taste of something.

  8. Thanks for that, Ann. I would have had to look it up. I went to the asparagus market in Nuremberg today, hoping to see something worth photographing, but most of it was an outdoor restaurant. I couldn’t bring myself to buy any asparagus either. I got a Flugmango instead. Very wicked when you think how much fuel is used transporting them.

  9. Follow-up after consuming my asparagus… yes it was fairly bland. What IS all the fuss about?

    Paul

  10. Traditionally, asparagus was the spring crop for the fruit growers (as it continues to be here around Mainz). June 24th is St. John’s Day, also one of the old quarter-days, and marked the start of the soft fruit harvest, i.e. the main crop for which all the pickers were needed. So that’s why the asparagus harvest came to an end then (possibly all the pickers were away at the quarter-day fairs as well).

    Nowadays, asparagus varieties are specifically bred to be green or white. Originally though, white asparagus was simply green asparagus that had been banked up and so didn’t photosynthesise (white asparagus is still banked up and doesn’t see the light of day until it’s harvested). Green asparagus is becoming increasingly popular in Germany, and is now even being grown here in quite large numbers. I must say I personally prefer the green stuff, which has a stronger flavour and is easier to cook. I’m not a great fan of white asparagus (too woody IMHO), but if done well by a really good chef (such as Gänsthaler’s restaurant here in Finthen – highly recommended if you’re in the area!) it’s actually quite edible with a professionally made Hollandaise and a first-class Grüner Sylvaner or Grüner Veltlinger.

  11. Thanks, anonymous Mainzer. I knew June 24th was an English quarter day and a big deal in ‘Die Meistersinger’, but I don’t know the German quarter days. I wasn’t aware the asparagus varieties grown differ, but then they certainly don’t look as if one could grow into the other.
    I see you treat asparagus as a plural!
    ‘Green asparagus is becoming increasingly popular in Germany, and is now even being grown here *in quite large numbers*.’

  12. Margaret,
    The anonymous Mainzer was me. I changed over to Firefox during the week and decided to abandon all the cookies.
    Sorry, should that have been “in quite large number” ?:-)
    But seriouely, it’s surely the same for all collective nouns, such as salmon, trout and mint.

    Robin

  13. Sorry, Robin, I should have guessed from the combination of Mainz and fluent English…

    Not to be too hairsplitting, but I would call salmon a countable noun, so that you can talk about 3 or 4 salmon, even if there’s no marking of the plural, whereas mint seems uncountable – I could talk about three mint plants, or three mint leaves, but not three mints (unless I meant Polo, I suppose).

    I wasn’t trying to criticize, I was just curious about the status of asparagus in England grammar.

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