German gourmets are licking their lips in anticipation of asparagus season, which kicks off this week. The sunny spring weather is expected to ensure a bumper crop.
Spring has arrived - and so has the asparagus!
If you travel through the German countryside in the spring, you’ll see fields filled with rows covered in plastic sheeting. The plastic covering acts like a mini-greenhouse, covering the tender spears of the year’s first asparagus.
Asparagus is probably the only thing – aside from soccer – that makes Germans go wild.
The brief asparagus season is a major event. Almost all restaurants offer a special asparagus menu. There are asparagus peeling contests and asparagus festivals, complete with an asparagus queen.
Travel companies offer special seminars and organized tours of asparagus farms, as well as asparagus cooking classes. Connoisseurs travel hundreds of kilometers to feast on the freshly harvested delicacy.
An ancient food
Asparagus has been prized by gourmets since Roman times. The name comes from the Greek language meaning "sprout" or "shoot" and is a member of the lily family.
The vegetable has been cultivated for over 2000 years, starting in the eastern Mediterranean region. Greeks and Romans loved asparagus for its unique flavor, texture and medicinal qualities. They ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter.
Roman emperors even went so far as to keep special "asparagus fleets" to ferry choice stalks to their tables.
King Louis XIV of France was so taken by asparagus, he had special greenhouses built so he could enjoy it all year long. Since then, the delicacy has been called the "Food of Kings".
It doesn’t just taste good
But asparagus isn’t just valued for its taste. It’s also very healthy.
Asparagus is a great source of folate, iron and potassium. It's also high in vitamins A and C. As it stimulates the kidneys, asparagus is perfect for purifying the body.
For a long time, people believed it also boosted virility. But this has now been attributed to the fantasy of an asparagus fan, who read too much into the vegetable’s phallic form.
Many Germans would probably love to eat asparagus for every meal during the season. But the price just won’t allow that. It ranges from $3.00 to $10.00 per pound, depending on the quality of the asparagus, the abundance of the current crop, and the region in which it’s grown.
The season officially ends on June 24th, the feast of St. John the Baptist. After this day, no more asparagus spears are cut, in order to give the plants an adequate rest period. Otherwise, they wouldn’t produce enough sprouts the next year.