Ah yes, it’s spring and that can only mean one thing in Germany, especially South/Central Germany, it’s Spargelzeit (Asparagus Time). This is the time of the year, April to June, when white asparagus or Bleichspargel (bleached asparagus) puts Germans into a culinary frenzy. This delectable little tuber, which is 95% water, is a virtual cult favorite in Deutschland and Germans consume a lot of it. One figure I read was that 127,000 tons of the stuff were consumed last year, more than any other country in the world, with the possible exception of Switzerland. It is typically served with hollandaise sauce or with a light topping of melted cheese, for example parmesan as shown here.
You might think, “asparagus, no big deal”. But the asparagus popular with Deutschers is not just your ordinary green asparagus, sometimes bitter and tough and found in bunches at your local Safeway. No, the production of white asparagus is an expensive and time consuming process and Germans appreciate its mild taste and tenderness. It takes at least three years for a white asparagus crop to be harvested and the process involves piling sand and compost over the root stocks to create the blanching effect so loved here. The stalks can grow two to three inches a day during the growing season and the grower must be sure to keep the stalks covered as they begin to sprout up to maintain the desired bleaching effect.
Jay started to wonder what is it with white asparagus that makes Germans go crazy over the stuff? No one really knows for sure but there are a couple of prime theories. The first is that Spargel’s arrival is associated with that of spring. And after a dark, cold and sometimes dreary winter, what could make one happier than a plate of white asparagus?
The other theory for Spargel’s popularity is rooted in history. The Romans introduced it to Germany 2,000 years ago as a delicacy and Louis XIV grew it in hot houses, reserving its consumption for nobles only. In the 16th century, it began being cultivated in earnest in the Stuttgart area and was nicknamed “the royal vegetable”. The 17th century prince-elector in the Schwetzingen area, near Mannheim, ordered it to be grown on his palatial grounds. And today, the town of Schwetzingen is the self-proclaimed “asparagus capital” of the world.
We were in Schwetzingen last weekend and enjoyed this wonderful vegetable in one of the town’s many popular Spargel venues.