Asparagus: Franconia's "White Gold"

It's asparagus season again here in Franconia! And people get quite crazy about their asparagus (Spargel) in these parts. Other than customary in northern America, where asparagus is usually harvested green, asparagus is traditionally harvested in its white state here. This is achieved by cutting the asparagus root under the earth, which is why the countryside around Zeilitzheim is dotted with strange fields with long rows of mounds of sandy dirt under which this fine (and expensive) vegetable is grown.

Asparagus is such a valuable commodity, that farmers usually sell most of what they harvest directly from their farms or at roadside stands. Be prepared to invest some time and work if you are planning on cooking asparagus yourself, however. You will need at least a pound of asparagus per person.

Preparing and Serving Asparagus

Asparagus will usually already be washed when you buy it, sold by the kilogram (kg). You will usually have to pay between 7 and 9 Euros per kilogram (two metric pounds), depending on the quality (which is determined by thickness). I personally prefer the thinner cat. II asparagus. Other than with green asparagus, you will need to peel the woody, stringy outer part of the asparagus stalks and perhaps cut off a small piece on the end (not the head! That is the most valuable part of the asparagus root). You can tell whether asparagus is fresh by examining the cut end of the root: It should be moist.

You will then need a big pot that will hold the asparagus with ample amounts of water (add a little salt and sugar to the water when boiling). German households often have tall or longish asparagus pots but any pot large enough to hold the stalks without damaging them will do. Cook until the thicker end of the asparagus is done and serve with melted butter, cooked buttered potatoes sprinkled with parsley and your favorite German meat dish (traditionally a regional ham or bratwurst). If you want to get fancy, you can also whip up a hollandaise sauce.

Eating Out

Of course: If you are traveling you might not want to prepare the "white gold" yourself. Many restaurants ("Gasthaus") in the region serve a variety of asparagus dishes during the season. A good restaurant will make a recommendation of Franconian wine to got with the dish. In its simplest - and personally my favorite - form (cooked and served with melted butter, cooked potatoes and cooked or cured ham) you will often be served a glass of chilled Silvaner, Franconia's typical varietal, a dry white wine that grows in the vineyards of the Trias region.

You will also find green asparagus here nowadays. Be sure to try both kinds.

If you want to experience "Spargelzeit" this year you'll have to make your travel plans soon. The season ends on June 24th, on "Johanni" (holy day Saint John the Baptist). If you make in "on time" you will be able to see the region's "Asparagus Queen". Theresa Günther will be inthroned (on an armchair from the castle, that is often used for such purposes) on April 23rd in the next village over (Kolitzheim).