(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
Just after the morning’s first cup of coffee, I pedaled my bicycle to the organic market near my house. I’d been drawn by the sign advertising fresh local asparagus and I came home with bundles of the tender green vegetable in the wicker basket on the front of my bike. That night, grilled in butter and olive oil, sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, it was as delicious as I’d expected. The quintessential taste of spring.
Halfway around the world, in Germany, I know another woman was probably doing the same thing. Only her bicycle basket would be filled with the pale, white asparagus. It would be more delicately flavored, grown in tall mounds of earth, sheltered from the sun until harvest.
From April to late June, Germans are mad for asparagus. Eaten only in season, the tender, pale, stalks set off a frenzy of dining and celebrating. We have asparagus season. They have Spargelzeit. Once the delicacy of kings, and regarded as a medicinal luxury in the Middle Ages, the “edible Ivory” stalks are brought out like treasure. Harvested, displayed and consumed with adoration.
Weekly markets--usually held in the historic squares of the old cities--are sprinkled with stalls featuring rows of white asparagus bundles paired with other early fruits and vegetables like radishes or strawberries. The effect is as colorful and appealing as any still-life composed by an artist.
Restaurants create special menus dedicated to asparagus, each trying to outdo the other. It is blended into cocktails, pickled, chopped into salads, draped across main courses and even sweetened and turned into dessert. One might have it in the morning’s omelet, lunchtime salad and again at the evening meal. With a glass of German wine, of course. There is no moderation.
Like the country’s exuberant Christmas decorations, Asparagus is the star of spring. There are asparagus festivals, complete with Kings and Queens and districts organize asparagus trails and tours similar to the well-traveled wine routes that meander through the Rhine valley. The Lower Saxony region produces a fifth of all the asparagus Germany consumes each season and in the Baden fields devotees, eager for the freshest bites, can pitch in and join the harvest.
Here, in my part of the world, the sign is back. A new harvest of local Northwest asparagus is on display at the market so I’ll hop back on my bike and fill the basket again. I’ll serve it up and savor each bite. But I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. Sure, we have asparagus season. But Germany? Well, they get Spargelzeit.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org