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Asparagus - Germany's White Gold

Munich: City Centre Market

What’s green in England and white in Germany? The answer, most commonly at least, is asparagus. Both are excellent, enjoyment of them enhanced by the brevity of the season. But in Germany much more is made of it. Chalk written notices outside restaurants trumpet that der Spargelsaison has arrived. Roadside kiosks selling it open all over the place. It’s not unusual to find, on a menu, a dish incorporating a whole kilo of it, sometimes eaten with ham. You could catch the season this spring and early summer. It starts in mid-April and ends officially on midsummer’s day, June 24, or Johannistag – said also to be the birthday of St John the Baptist and sometimes called Spargelweihnachten or Spargelsylvester (asparagus Christmas or New Year’s Eve). The popularity of the vegetable, sometimes known as white gold, was given a big leg up by French King Louis X1V, though there’s no record of him saying “let them eat asparagus”. It became established on princely tables in what is now Germany after the Elector of Palatine developed a taste for it around the end the 18th century. Four states are home to "asparagus routes", among them those in Baden and Lower Saxony.

Lower Saxony trail - image courtesy German National Tourist Office

The Baden Route (Baden Spargelstrasses) takes in Schwetzingen, claimed as the world capital of asparagus. It's one of a number of towns which hosts an asparagus festival – this one in early May. It also runs through Hockenheim, with its motor racing course, Reilgen, Bruchsal, Karlsruhe, Rastatt and Scherzheim. The well signposted Lower Saxony route covers some 750kms, starting and finishing in Burgdorf on the Aue river, about 22kms northeast of Hanover. It crosses the regions of Brunswick, Lüneburg Heath, Mittelweiser and Oldenburg Münsterland.

But you can find restaurants serving great helpings of it everywhere – not least Munich, whose city centre market has many stalls piled with graded stacks. In Bavaria is is often shown on menus as Schrobenhauser Spargel. Schrobenhauser, near Augsburg, is the centre of a major cultivation area, whose sandy soil is reckoned to give the local variety a light, nutty taste. I recall eating it pickled and in a mousse at Munich's upmarket Pfistermühle restaurant. And not far away in Regensburg it was impossible to turn up the opportunity to round off dinner with the astonishingly successful combination of asparagus ice cream and strawberries.

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