Spargel season in Germany is short-lived, but millions of people rush out to restaurants with great anticipation and to the markets and roadside stands to buy it to cook at home. We all wait for it! It is one of the wonderful specialties of spring. By regulation, German asparagus will only be served fresh in restaurants and Gasthaüser from about April 23rd to about June 23rd. After that last date, you will no longer find it on a menu as a fresh offering. Of course, you can still grow it and you can buy it, though not for much longer as, like rhubarb, the plant becomes past its prime and it also needs to rebuild food reserves for production the following year.
Green asparagus is also a specialty of spring and that is the most known type in North America. It is also well known in Europe, but it's the white everyone in Germany awaits. France, Italy and Spain are also known for their white asparagus. The green and the white are actually from the same plant. It is just how they are grown and when and how they are harvested that makes them different. The plant one grows for the green is generally just planted in a flat bed and allowed to grow above the ground and turn green before it is cut. Those growing a plant as white asparagus grow them in raised beds (in Germany one sees huge fields of long rows of raised soil). They are not allowed to see the light of day.
When harvest approaches, the farmers are out every day at first light cutting the Spargel just as the tips come to the surface. Throughout the season workers will be seen scanning the fields and cutting. They use a special tool for that, called a Spargelstecher, a foot-long rod with a knife-like cutting end.
The stalks are cut off below the surface with the root left untouched (the root is left untouched with green asparagus as well). Because the asparagus never sees light, the color is white. If it grows above the soil before it is cut, then it will have a slight yellow or purplish color. Those are considered second class. Only the white and the straightest are sold as first class.
A few years ago we rarely saw farm stands in our area selling white asparagus (or green either for that matter), though the markets and the grocery stores did. Now we are seeing it everywhere, even in our village just down the road. It has certainly brought the price of fresh asparagus down as we no longer get it just from specialized areas. For the consumer it is great. Perhaps not so great for the areas that earlier were the main producers.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s white asparagus mostly came from four well-known growing areas in Germany: Schwetzingen, near Heidelberg, in our province of Baden-Württemberg; north of Munchen (Munich) in Bayern (Bavaria); the Bodensee region (Lake Constance) in southern Germany and the Lüneburger Heide area in northern Germany. In the last few years asparagus fields have sprouted up everywhere in our own region.
At left below, fresh strawberries topped with whipped cream and wild strawberries from outside our door.
Farmers and gardeners also cover strawberries with the plastic as well, as it is in season at the same time and is often the dessert at the "Spargel Essen" table.
(Spargel Essen means an asparagus meal or to eat asparagus.)
This year we have had three Spargel dinners at home. A few years ago we usually enjoyed it at a Gasthaus as many still do, but these days we generally cook it ourselves. It isn't just the asparagus itself that we look forward to each spring, but to all that accompanies it and makes it such a special meal. The main reason we have it at home is that we think it is better: we can eat as much or as little as we like, and we can have all the extras that are traditionally part of it.
The traditional Spargel dinner is shown opposite. It includes three types of Schinken (ham), new boiled potatoes, Kratzete (crepes) and hollandaise sauce, all as accompaniments to the main dish: the white asparagus. With this dinner we had a bottle of Fürst von Metternich Riesling Sekt. It was excellent with the dinner.
On the plate below, Spargel (asparagus), Kratzete (crepes), two types of Schinken (ham), a boiled new potato and hollandaise sauce.
Years ago, Hans organized "Spargel Essen" evenings for Canadian friends and colleagues. Normally we would have about 30 people joining in on a Saturday night. Most years he organized at least two of these evenings.
One of the chefs, Herr Rosen, a great cook, put on nights to remember, with all the traditional food, side dishes and extras. At the time, we paid around 18 Deutsch Mark per person--expensive even then--but much cheaper than at other restaurants at that time (and cheaper than we realized before the Euro came into being!).
About five years ago, Hans' son and family flew over from Canada in the spring. Hans organized another dinner, this time at a local Gasthaus we frequent, whose chef/owner and a friend, Martin Grimm, is also a great cook. The cost then was about Euro 18, double the price compared to the Mark. One pays that today in a regular Gasthaus; more in a restaurant and only for the normal offering, not for any of the extras.