What is it about Germans and asparagus? Forget about the Welsh and their leeks, even the French and onions, when it comes to a national vegetable obsession, no one outdoes the Germans with their asparagus.
In springtime a strange madness overcomes the country. Grown men and women – who appear to be balanced and responsible citizens at other times of the year – go completely tonto swallowing Spargel as well as attending asparagus festivals, competing in asparagus peeling competitions and crowning asparagus queens (pictured below is Füchtorf’s Spargelkönigin Kim I). At thousands of intersections wooden huts and stalls sprout up to sell the vegetable. Plus asparagus appears on the menus of every restaurant in the country.
Germans eat over 70,000 tons of this ‘edible ivory’ every year. I like mine served with lashings of Balsamic vinegar and good olive oil but most people here prefer them in richer, more complicated dishes. The favourite accompaniment – especially in Berlin -- is Hollandaise sauce with Serrano ham and boiled new potatoes served on the side. But Bavarians seem to prefer wrapping their Spargel in crêpe-like pancakes. In the Ruhrgebiet folks scoff them down with pork cutlets. I’ve witnessed Germans eating asparagus soup, asparagus sausage, casserole-like Kartoffelauflauf mit Spargel, asparagus sushi and even asparagus ice cream.
How to cook the little phalluses is a big thing: in salted water with a fleck of butter, never in an aluminium pot, sometimes in a state-of-the-art steamer, always from fresh (i.e. squeeze a stalk to see if any ‘juice’ comes out). Also etiquette dictates that the slippery devils must be eaten with a knife and fork, and from the stalk end to the tip, saving the best for last.
Almost all of those 70,000 tons are eaten in May, June and July, which for me is the most interesting aspect of the asparagus phenomena. Germans still attach great importance to seasonality, hence the brief, obsessive consumption of cherries, strawberries, blueberries and Pfifferlinge mushrooms in the appropriate season. Only a small minority of people here insist on being able to buy fruit and vegetables out of season, which of course enhances the sense of occasion -- and culinary madness -- when these foods do appear in the shops. Guten Appetit!