The Dawning of the Age of Asparagus
They say good things come to those who wait, but I wouldn’t recommend waiting too long. With only six weeks left to enjoy Spargel season, head to Germany to savour the subtle gastronomic pleasures of the “King of Vegetables”.
Asparagus is found in two varieties, white and green. Though they both come from the same plant, white asparagus grows more deeply underground, and as it grows, the burgeoning stalks are covered to protect them from the sun. Without sunlight, the stalks can’t photosynthesise, allowing them to retain their soft white colour.
As a kid growing up in California in the 1980’s, I knew only of green asparagus boiled beyond recognition. However during my first springtime trip to Germany two decades ago, I discovered that the thick, phallic stalks advertised as a daily special outside every café were (gasp!) white, and considered a true delicacy.
Famed for its delicate flavour and fibrous texture, white asparagus is an obsession in Germany. The anxiously awaited Spargelzeit—literally asparagus time—occurs from approximately late March to end June each year, during which time the vegetable reigns supreme. I’m not kidding about its royal status—asparagus is often called the King of Vegetables, der König der Gemüse in German.
And while the French may have created beautiful art from asparagus (think Manet’s gorgeous asparagus still-lifes or writer Marcel Proust’s sexy love-letter of sorts to the vegetable), the Germans have made consuming asparagus an art itself. This time of year, asparagus is fêted in ways normally reserved for heads of state and reality TV stars. There are even beauty pageants where lovely young Spargel queens are chosen for a year of asparagus-related PR duties.
So whether you like it served warm with homemade mayonnaise or transformed into a variety of specialties like asparagus cream soup, asparagus ham rolls, or even a sweet asparagus panna cotta, don’t miss out on the beloved white asparagus this season. The King of Vegetables is a delicacy whose memory will haunt you for life, or at least until eating the royal vegetable sends you on a trip to the porcelain throne…