Spring in Germany means one thing: Asparagus season, or spargelzeit. Germans are obsessed with asparagus, which is often called the “vegetable of kings” or even “white gold” when the particular white variety comes into season at farmers market stalls. In season, from mid-late April through June, restaurants all over Germany serve asparagus on special menus, markets and farmers sell it, and asparagus festivals celebrate it and crown an Asparagus Queen or King. Sign-posted asparagus tourism routes urge drivers and bicyclists to explore small towns and countryside in regions where it grows.
So beloved is asparagus in Germany that it is often an entrée, ordered by the pound or half-pound (not unlike lobster in other parts of the world). Typically, asparagus is served with butter and ham, or with hollandaise sauce– but its preparations are almost unlimited. You’ll find asparagus cream soup, in a salad with smoked salmon, or with wild garlic pesto, beer-batter-fried with herb cream, with leek-wrapped ham in vinaigrette, with breaded veal schnitzel, with noodles and ham in Gouda cheese sauce, and so on. The average German eats asparagus at least once a day in season, which amounts to well over 70,000 tons a year, according to CMA Global Partners (an importer and trade promotion firm in Washington, D.C.). Germany produces only about 60,000 tons of asparagus a year, meaning much of the adored vegetable is imported.
But the highly nutritious, low-calorie vegetable doesn’t look like the green asparagus sold in North America year-round. In Germany, it’s white and fatter. Grown in knee-high soil, surrounded by earth, it’s protected from sunlight and so doesn’t turn green since it doesn’t produce chlorophyll. Before and after harvest, fields resemble earthen mounds. During harvest, only the white tips peek from the earth. While grown in most German states, asparagus is mostly grown in Lower Saxony in northwest Germany, and Baden-Wurttemberg in southwest Germany. The “Asparagus Capital of the World,” Schwetzingen, a town near Heidelberg, is the start of the Asparagus Road in Baden-Wurttemberg, which runs 75 miles to Scherzheim, passing by Karlsruhe– the gateway city for the Black Forest, Bruchsal, Europe’s biggest asparagus market, and Rastatt (Europe’s biggest asparagus farm).
Schwetzingen, the “Asparagus Capital of the World,” is the start of the Asparagus Road in Baden-Wurttemberg, which runs 75 miles to Scherzheim, Europe’s biggest asparagus market, and Rastatt (Europe’s biggest asparagus farm).
Scwhetzingen, whose popular Asparagus Festival in May crowns a King and boasts both live bands and a peeling contest, is where the vegetable earned its royal pedigree in Germany. Around 1650, the royal ruler, Carl Theodor, decreed that asparagus be grown in the garden of the castle, his summer residence. Schlossgarten, one of Germany’s most famous gardens (named “Garden of the Year” in 2016 by the State Heritage Agency) is known for its French formal and wild English-style gardens, as well as its colorful lilac and chestnut trees (best seen in May) and structures that conjure up exotic civilizations, like a Roman-style Temple of Apollo, sphinxes, or a mosque with minarets. Asparagus later grew in popularity in court cuisine in neighboring towns.
At a beer garden at the castle entrance, Brauhaus zum Ritter, asparagus stars in flammekuchen, a flatbread topped with asparagus, ham, and cheese. Meanwhile, herb pancakes stuffed with asparagus and ham is a specialty served at Simianer Spargelhof, a fourth-generation family-owned restaurant in Hambrucken (another town on southwest Germany’s Asparagus Road).
The much bigger Asparagus Road in Lower Saxony, almost 500 miles long, starts and ends in Burgdorf– a town of quaint half-timbered houses near Hanover, a city south of Bremen (the city famous for the fairytale of the Bremen Town Musicians; a dog, cat, and rooster riding a donkey is immortalized by a statue in its main square). The route passes Nienburg, whose famed Asparagus Museum is inside a 300-year-old former farmhouse. It also crosses Luneberg Heath, a nature reserve whose sandy soil is perfect for growing asparagus– until, that is, it blooms with purple heather in August, ending the growing season for pale white vegetables with a radiant dash of color.
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