It’s Spargelzeit!

Spargel

Last month as we chugged along the scenic back roads of Lower Saxony, we began to notice handwritten “Spargel” signs all over the place. On telephone poles. At intersections. In front of restaurants. On stands in parking lots. Everywhere. What was this?

Hmm, “Spargel.”

Let’s see now. I studied German at university so this should have been a no-brainer, but my deteriorating grey matter struggled to translate. We passed still more signs while my brain fired up. Wait. Asparagus! That was it. Spargel is asparagus, and obviously it was asparagus season. Clearly a stop was required. When a sign appeared pointing to a small stand at the outer edge of an empty grocery-store parking lot (camper heaven), we veered in and parked.

I popped out of the van and sauntered over to the counter to take a peek. Immediately I wished I brought my camera, because lined up in front of me were five tubs of the fattest, whitest asparagus I’d ever seen, each heaping with different sized stalks. Medium ones (none were thin), fat ones, tips, cheaper broken bits for making soup.

Peering out from behind a wrinkled copy of Der Spiegel, a woman with a spiky grey hair and pursed lips eyed our Dutch plates and then greeted me warily.

“Guten Tag. Was Empfehlen Sie heute?” I chirped. Impressive! My German was coming back to me. Let’s see what she recommended.

Shrugging as if to say, “What are you, stupid?” the woman motioned to the bin on the far right, which was filled with fat, phallic looking tips. At €5.99 per kilo, these were the most expensive but clearly her best stuff. After pretending to think about it for a second, I bought a kilo, thanked her and scurried back to the van with my bounty.

 

We steamed the tips that night. The stalks, some nearly two inches thick, were the fattest I’d ever seen. Afterward I just dumped them all on one large plate, adding a tiny bit of olive oil, butter and salt to make them perfect. Then we each grabbed a fork and dove in. Holy cow! German Spargel is sweeter than the asparagus you get in North America, green or white, and so much more tender. No other food was necessary. That was one of the best camper dinners we’ve had yet.

Later I found out from our friend Bernie, the one who saved our butts with the Reichstag reservation, what a truly big deal Spargel is here in Germany. It’s a national obsession, and I feel pretty sorry for the poor saps — all five of them — who don’t like it. Spargelcremesupppe (cream of asparagus soup) is every restaurant’s soup of the day. Spargel dominates daily special boards and arrives nestled beside every entree. It’s often served simply, with only Hollandaise sauce and boiled potatoes.

 

In a world where increasingly industrialized foods are available year round, I love that this revered white asparagus still has an actual season. It lasts from late April until late June, more specifically until the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24, when the season abruptly ends every year. Always. If you get a Spargel craving on the 25th, you’re out of luck.

OK, since I only have six days left, I’d better head over to the market. Here’s a recipe in case you’re lucky enough to be in Spargel country right now.

Spargelcremesuppe (Asparagus Cream Soup) Recipe

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