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Wa-hey! It’s spargel time!

Germany goes nuts about white asparagus

Every year around now German farmers go undercover. Their mission is to harvest a highly prized vegetable, hidden under plastic-wrapped rows of earth, that drives German gourmets wild.  You’ll find it on every restaurant menu from mid-April to 24th June (Midsummer Day). Many festivals celebrate it with music and wine and housewives carry bags of the stuff home. It is spargel (asparagus) season!

Everybody in Germany loves their spargel and yet few know that the tasty spear is the fruit (read: vegetable) of a perennial shrub that has been around for thousands of years. The Chinese used it for medicinal purposes, Egyptians ate it under the pyramids and the Roman Emperor Diocletian even controlled its price personally, so important was it to him.

Today, it grows on around 21,000 hectares in Germany, mainly in the states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg. Almost 100,000 tons are harvested and consumed in around ten weeks which means that the average German devours a good two kilos of the stuff. At around €9 a kilo, it’s not cheap, but that’s partly because of the need to keep it covered and heaping earth on it as it grows, so that it never quite sees daylight (if it did, of course, it would turn green – and green asparagus doesn’t have nearly the same appeal).

Traditionally, it is served with potatoes, sauce hollandaise and cooked or smoked ham and you are allowed to eat it with your fingers. And it is good for you, too. Quite apart from the fact that 100g only sets you back 20 calories, it is rich in vitamins B and C, drains the body from excess fluid and stimulates the kidneys. Oh, and did I mention that it is meant to be an aphrodisiac? Maybe that is the reason why connoisseurs will only boil it standing up, with the fresh tips sticking out at the top…

And if you’re not in Germany during the season, you can always visit one of the many asparagus museums in Schrobenhausen, Beelitz or Nienburg or take part in the asparagus relay race in Stade. By 24th June, the official end of the season, most appetites are saturated and the nation returns to other fruit and veg. Every child in Germany knows that “when the cherries are red, the asparagus is dead!”

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