Laptops and lederhosen: Asparagus season celebrates Germanness
As the 'white gold' of Germany sprouts up all around the country, the asparagus season 'Spargelzeit' tells a lot about German culture.
We are in one of the truly great times in Germany: the festival of springtime.
Ah yes, Spargelzeit (asparagus season) is here. Fifty-five tons of the edible ivory will be devoured in a year. Nothing seems to captivate the Germans, the Bavarians even more so, than those eight weeks that end on June 24th. And the fascination runs across all generations, genders and socioeconomic strata. The health benefits of asparagus are many and well-documented, but the love of it goes well beyond that. But why?
The history of the vegetable goes back around 4,000 years and it is grown throughout the world. Most people eat the green variety but the white type grows larger and is tenderer – but is much more expensive because the cultivating and harvesting methods are very tedious and complex – and is coveted by Germans. Whether you eat white or green asparagus the most important factor is it must be fresh. Any person with a little bit of experience with asparagus can taste fresh from not so fresh because the flavour turns from a sweet yet distinct mild flavor to a bitter one. And this brings us to our first point of why the Germans like it so much.
Asparagus accompanied with ham, potatoes and Hollandaise sauce.
The Germans, very rightfully so, are proud of their skills of organising and transporting. Getting asparagus to the market while it still has retained the desired freshness requires the skill set that most Germans seem to have. From harvesting to consumption, the whole process should be completed in about 12–24 hours when things are working properly. An old farmer’s rule says asparagus is best when 'morgens gestochen und mittags verzehrt' – picked in the morning and eaten at lunch.
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You can never get enough
asparagus in these parts.
This is also why many Germans choose to take their cars to the source of the asparagus. Here in Bavaria, the most famous place for asparagus is Schrobenhausen, though nearly any place in Germany has excellent asparagus, and the countryside is dotted with stands that sell the very freshest and tastiest product. So whenever a box of fresh asparagus is opened it is like a reaffirmation of what it is to be German and their ideas of time and order.
The second reason, and I believe the more important, is that Spargelzeit signals the end of winter in a way altogether different from Carnival or even Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival). While those celebrate the end of winter with lots of alcohol and craziness, asparagus is the first fresh vegetable or fruit grown in Germany that can be eaten by Germans, and can be enjoyed by everyone to some degree or another. It heralds the coming of spring, with its infinite promise of great weather (before June’s reality of rain dampens the excitement), a return to the outdoors, and the eating of fresh fruits and vegetables after a winter of heavy roasted meats, sauerkraut and dumplings.
Quite often in May the weather in Bavaria is what can only be described as epic. The Bavarian sky takes on its special blue hue. Farmhouse balconies are tidied up and flowers are planted, as the gardens are readied for a season of grilling and beer drinking. Bicycles are serviced and people begin to try to lose their Winterspeck (winter’s bacon), the few extra kilos accumulated during the winter. The first few shoots of asparagus seem to set the buzz of activity in motion.
The Asparagus Queen from Schrobenhausen,
Bavaria’s most famous locale for growing asparagus.
If you don’t know how to prepare asparagus have no fear, nearly any decent restaurant has a 'Spargel Menu', that is a menu devoted entirely to asparagus. From soups to starters, main courses to desserts (yes, it is even in some desserts), one does not have to look far for some excellent dishes that celebrate the asparagus. And remember, the smell in the WC (toilet) a few hours after eating asparagus can mean only one thing: spring is on the way. Your kidneys will thank you, too!
Michael V Owens’ parents instilled wanderlust in him at an early age. After 30 sweltering summers, in 2000 he left the US for Munich to experience the four seasons. He sees himself becoming Germanised – with a deep affinity for all things Bavarian – and loves the ideas of order and tidiness, although their execution has been much harder to grasp. He can often be found doing very German things, rain or shine, like hiking, biking, jogging and reading. Find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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