Germany's celebration of Spargel
You know spring has arrived in Germany when local restaurants start featuring asparagus, known as “Spargel,” on their menus. The asparagus harvest is celebrated throughout Germany and enthusiastically called “Spargel Zeit,” meaning “asparagus time.”
White Spargel is referred to as Germany’s “royal vegetable.” Although its history of origin in Germany is sparsely documented, white Spargel was popularized by French and German royalty in the 17th and 18th centuries. Grown underground, white Spargel retains a milky white color and more delicate flavor and texture than its green counterpart. The white variety is celebrated in a number of Spargelfests every April to June, particularly in German regions near the Deutsche Weinstraße.
Schwetzingen, a small town between Mannheim and Heidelberg, is considered the center of the “Asparagus Triangle,” and also dubbed the “asparagus capital of the world” due to its perfect soil and climate for growing Spargel. The town’s restaurants create more than forty dishes utilizing the vegetable, which appear on their seasonal menus from April to June. Sample traditional favorites like steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce, the popular appetizer of Spargel wrapped in prosciutto or Spargel cream soup. If you’re feeling really daring, try a dessert of asparagus ice cream. Whatever you decide, make sure you finish your dish; it is considered rude to leave any Spargel uneaten.
Every other year, Schwetzingen hosts a huge festival to celebrate the vegetable. Many tents will offer dishes made with Spargel, and a Spargel king or queen will be crowned based upon the person who has grown the heaviest stalk of the year. Cheer on competitors who must peel Spargel in a competition. The winner is the participant who peels the best, rather than the most, Spargel. This year's fest is June 11.
Southeast of Freinsheim, the quaint town of Erpolzheim, known for its beautiful, traditional architecture, hosts an annual event to commemorate the Spargel harvest and the area’s wines. Named the Kulinarishe Wanderung um Obst Spargel und Wein, follow a 6.5-kilometer path through the town’s vineyards while stopping at tents to sample various culinary delights showcasing Spargel and a variety of local wines. Try Flammkuchen with Spargel, Spargel wrapped in cheese and ham or skewered shrimp with Spargel salad. You can even dig for your own Spargel and purchase wine by the bottle to take home. Taking place May 28 and 29, the event is family- and dog-friendly and provides a great excuse to enjoy beautiful weather and get some exercise.
Another way to enjoy the Spargel season is to travel by car, train or bike along the 136-kilometer Badische Spargelstraße, or “Baden Asparagus Route.” The towns along this route, including Karlsruhe, Rastatt and Scherzheim, host festivals, and local restaurants offer specialties featuring the delicacy. For more information on this route and its events, visit www.deutsche-ferienstrassen.de.
Whether you’re a fan of Spargel or not, the festivals provide a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family while exploring this lovely country. They’re also a welcome sign of the forthcoming German summer.