Producing white asparagus is labor intensive and it’s expensive…but it’s so, so good!
By Maggie Kielpinski
Photographs courtesy Maggie Kielpinski.
We’ve always been lucky in Europe in early spring. It’s the quiet time, a time to pretend that you are European and enjoy the time honored traditions of the “old country” where every region has its specialty cuisine. Our last trip found us in Lüneburg, savoring the crispy pan-fried Stint (a tiny smelt), consumed down-the-hatch, bones and all, then gorging on that staple export of the Hanseatic League, the North Sea herring known as Matjes, in Bremerhaven, and finishing our festal odyssey in Karlsruhe, dining on tender ivory spears of white asparagus, known as Spargel, in Germany.
Two regions grow the bulk of the asparagus harvested in Germany: Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemburg. We found ourselves in Karlsruhe, smack dab in the middle of the 85-mile long “Badische Spargelstrasse” which follows the River Rhine through an area tailor-made for Spargel, where centuries of flooding from the Rhine have deposited friable sandy soil to the low-lying plain. The eight weeks of Spargelzeit begin in late April and end in late June, around Midsummers Day. It signals the astronomical beginning of summer. The aristocratic town of Schwetzingen, at the north end of the route, is the self styled asparagus capital of the world. It was here at his summer palace, in the 18th century, that Karl Theodor, the Elector Palatine—whose passion for the arts included a love of formal French gardens—had his gardeners tend the delectable ivory spear for his table. Spargelfest, in early May, is celebrated in Schwetzingen with Spargel tours, Spargel seminars and the ubiquitous Spargel peeling competition.
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