If you rank the spring vegetables by how eagerly the Germans anticipate them, the asparagus or ‘Spargel‘ (pronounced shpar-gl) in German would occupy the top pedestal without contest. Spargel is so beloved by Germans that it is considered the Queen of the Vegetables.
Every year, with the coming of spring comes the German newspaper reports on the first spargel shoots and forecasts when the first harvests will occur. Spargelzeit (asparagus season) begins sometime between mid- April or early May and ends in late June.
It’s easy to tell it’s Spargelzeit: Almost all restaurants and even takeaway places will offer an asparagus dish. There is hardly a menu board that won’t have ‘spargel’ written on it. Supermarkets and kiosks will start selling them at pretty reasonable prices.
It used to be that asparagus was grown only in the warmer areas of Germany and left to grow as it would. This meant a harvest season of early May to late June. Farmers looking to make more money, started covering the fields with black foil so the sun heats up the soil much quicker resulting in earlier harvests. Thus, these days you can find spargel already around Easter.
But what makes asparagus so special in Germany?
Asparagus is very popular in the Netherlands, Spain, France, Poland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Italy, and Switzerland, and is almost exclusively white; if not, it is specified by the local language term for “green asparagus”.
White asparagus is the result of a blanching technique applied when the shoots are growing. Soil is piled over young shoots as they grow, and tarps ensure that no sunlight reaches them. Without photosynthesis, the stalks remain white. The result is an asparagus that is less bitter, more tender and thicker than its green counterpart.
The classic way to eat spargel is boiled, with boiled potatoes, hollandaise, and meat. It becomes the ultimate German food when it’s prepared by your Bavarian flatmate who learned to perfect the art from his parents. Yes, spargel is a serious art in this part of the world. If the Italians have al dente for pasta, I’m guessing the Germans have something for a perfectly boiled spargel too.
- to store fresh spargel stalks, wrap them with a clean cloth (‘einwickeln‘) and put them in the vegetable compartment of your fridge. Your spargel is guaranteed to stay fresh for a few days.
- the head is the best part of an asparagus
- Beelitz, a town in southwest of Berlin has a long history of growing spargel (about 150 years and counting). The sandy soil of the Brandenburg region makes it an ideal place for growing spargel. The town thrives so much on spargel that it celebrates an annual asparagus festival on the last weekend of May.
- The spargel in Beelitz is shorter than in other regions, and since the head is the best part of the spargel, you get more taste for less. You’re welcome!
Enjoy the warm and longer days and eat spargel! Spring can’t get any more German.