Asparagus harvest in May

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0001_1000-750The asparagus is a typical spring vegetable. The Germans are crazy for it. According to the stats they consume the most all over the world so it has a special place in their universe for sure. Asparagus appears to have been hardly noticed in England until 1538, and in Germany until 1542. The finest texture and the strongest and yet most delicate taste is in the tips so that the points d’amour (“love tips”) were served as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour. Finally asparagus became available to the New World around 1850, in the United States

In the course of the history the asparagus has been used as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour, diuretic properties, and more. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh and dried the vegetable for use in winter; Romans even froze it high in the Alps, for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action. A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third-century AD De re coquinaria book.

The ancient Greek physician- Galen mentioned asparagus as a beneficial herb during the second century AD, but after the Roman empire ended, asparagus drew little medieval attention. Until al-Nafzawi’s The Perfumed Garden. That piece of writing celebrates its aphrodisiacal power, a supposed virtue that the Indian Ananga Ranga attributes to “special phosphorus elements” that also counteract fatigue. By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries.

y2a3_pp-1000Asparagus harvest in Brandenburg

In Germany from mid April until 24th of June lasts the “Spargelzeit” (until the day of St John’s fire). Unless you have spent years in Germany, you don’t know what madness befalls the Teutons during the first harvest of the year. And, unless you grew up there, you will never completely understand it. For instance to harvest the white gold-asparagus, villages organize Asparagus Festivals and crown an Asparagus Queen every year (this year falls on 30 of May-1 of June)

There are also many asparagus peeling contests mostly in the provence of Brandenburg (near Berlin), sometimes with local politicians and dignitaries. For that occassion they have special dishes, serving and cooking utensils just for asparagus.

So when you happen to receive an invitation for a “Spargel Abend” you should treat it with the utmost respect and decorum because “spargel” is expensive, time-consuming to prepare and the harvest is short so these dinner parties are a special offering to the guest.

In May restaurants are offer different varieties of “Spargel”dishes when spargel is most often the centerpiece of the meal. Each guest has 5-8 spears of asparagus on the plate and then chooses from at least two sauces (melted butter and Hollandaise), cooked and dried ham slices, and boiled new potatoes. Some people serve pork cutlets, others serve hard boiled eggs, quartered. In Southern Germany, they serve asparagus in thin pancakes with sauce Hollandaise.

Germans eat asparagus from the stalk end to the tip, to save the best for last. It is rude not to finish your portion of asparagus, even if you leave other food on your plate. Also, do not ask for more asparagus, wait until it is offered to you.

All you can eat “Spargel” restaurants used to be very popular in the 80s and 90s but the vegetable has become so expensive (3.95 a bunch half kilo) that most restaurants limit the asparagus portion of the meal nowadays. They place big bowls of potatoes and butter on the table, which limits your capacity for the “Spargel”. Many companies have “Betriebsausflüge” or company field trips, which end at a restaurant. During “Spargelzeit” the ham and potatoes will be served family style, at large tables. You often pay for your own drinks.

Buying asparagus at the open air market for instance in Münich at Viktoilen markt place is an exercise in trust. Apart from the visual, you are not allowed to inspect or touch the goods. You must let the seller pick up and bundle the wares. A usual serving is 500 grams, about one pound (“ein Pfund”) per person.

Spring 2014 002Recipes: Oven roasted asparagus

Ingredients: 1 bunch thin asparagus spears, trimmed, 3 tablespoonsolive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoonsgrated Parmesan cheese (optional)

  • 1 clovegarlic, minced(optional), 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon lemon juice(optional)
  • Directions
    1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
    2. Place the asparagus into a mixing bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat the spears, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange the asparagus onto a baking sheet in a single layer.
    3. Bake in the preheated oven until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes depending on thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice just before serving.
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