By Ken Yeager
It is that time again when the Germans go a bit nuts over white asparagus. Partly because the season is pretty short, between six to eight weeks, depending on the weather, but also because, I have to say, it tastes good. Think of it, boiled potatoes, a nice slice of Kateschinken (ham, sort of like Parma, but a different smoke), white asparagus with melted butter or hollandaise sauce and of course, a nice chilled glass of Riesling white wine and, naturally, a bottle of mineral water to refresh the palette.
White asparagus grows completely underground and is only exposed to the sun while it is being harvested. Much of it is grown under plastic sheets to magnify the heat and make it grow faster. The stuff isn’t cheap because it must be harvested by hand and imported labor is primarily used, mostly Poles….Germans don’t like to do work like that. The season starts in May and ends towards the middle of June and during that time, Germans will eat tons of the stuff in a variety of ways. I personally am especially fond of asparagus cream soup, but I’ve also eaten it baked in tinfoil, on pizza and in chicken fricassee and I am sure there are many more ways to eat this vegetable. Asparagus is supposed to be good for the kidneys. Immediately after one eats asparagus, the urine has a very strong smell and this is supposed to be a good sign of flushing the kidneys (who knows).
Following the way my wife prepares it, she peels the asparagus using a device similar to a potato peeler and strips the stringy stuff from just below the head of the stalk all the way to the bottom and then trims off the bottom by about half an inch. The peels are put into water and boiled for 20-30 minute and then removed and discarded. The peeled asparagus is then put into the water (with a bit of butter and salt) and cooked for 15 to 20 minutes. (Some folks like to use some caraway seeds in the water as well for flavor – fortunately, neither of us like caraway seeds in anything). The cooked asparagus is then removed from the water and put on a dish towel to drain and then onto the plates for serving. Often we save (freeze) the water (which is now a broth) and use it for making asparagus soup.
Interestingly, green asparagus which is readily available in the US and here as well, is less popular with the Germans but in my opinion has a better taste and requires less peeling than the white. Never have understood why white asparagus is not grown in the US, probably because of the labor-intensive harvesting.
If you are ever in Germany during the asparagus season, make an effort to have some and enjoy something that the Germans love. Mahlzeit