Newest Review: ... if you buy them out of season. Here are few suggestions on how to eat them. Asparagus with eggs and Parmesan cheese. It is a classic. B... more
Member Name: MALU
Date: 28/05/04, updated on 20/04/13 (217 review reads)
Advantages: the taste
Disadvantages: you may belong to the 50% . . .
Growing this vegetable at home is an idea which would never have come to my mind. It is possible to do so provided your garden is very sunny and has got loose and slightly sandy soil rich in organic material which drains well, asparagus doesn´t like to get wet feet. It´s a perennial plant which multiplies readily through its roots system and will thrive for many years with little care, roots require one or two years to develop enough stalks to harvest.
Doesn´t sound too difficult, does it? And yet, none of the gardeners I know grows this vegetable; when we Germans think asparagus we think very large fields with rows of elevated beds watched attentively during the season from the end of April until 24th June, the day of St. John after which asparagus is not eaten any more. Just after sunrise the pickers, nearly exclusively people from Eastern Europe (Germans don´t want to do the backbreaking job, they prefer the dole money) go out onto the fields and where they see a slight crack in the soil they put their special knife in and cut the stalk carefully. A length of 22 cm means Extra Class, 17 cm Class 1, the perfect stalk should be straight, have a diameter of 1,6 - 2,6 cm and a closed head [I won´t look up the length in inches, sooner or later you´ll have to learn the metric measures anyway, so why not start now with me?! :-)]
In order to get completely white or to be precise: off-white, ivory coloured, asparagus the cutting must be done before the tip of the plant gets into contact with sunlight which would make it green or s
lightly violet. Diligent pickers can pick three to five kilos per hour, that means approximately 100 stalks; during the season asparagus grows so quickly that there´s a second harvest in the afternoons!
Due to the fact that each stalk must be taken out of the beds by hand and that human labour is costly (even if the pickers from Eastern Europe get lower wages than Germans would), asparagus is an expensive vegetable; edible ivory is a fitting nickname indeed. It´s interesting to learn that this has always been the case.
Historians of food (yes, there is such a subject at uni!) know that asparagus was first grown in Asia Minor and spread in the countries round the Mediterranean Sea about two thousand years ago. In 304 AD the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered a price limit for the vegetable, now we don´t have emperors any more and the free market regulates the price which is around 8 GBP for 1 kilo according to my informants.
The Greeks used the word ´asparagos´ for many stalk-like vegetables, it became ´asparagus´in Latin for the vegetable in question, in England the word was shortened in the 1600s in popular speech to ´sparagus, which became sparagrass or sparrowgrass by folk etymology. For many centuries asparagus was more known as a medicinal herb than a culinary delicacy and until the mid-19th century it remained a luxury dish available only to the nobility. How did asparagus reach northern Europe at all? Well, the Romans took the plant with them when they crossed the Alps to conquer the uncivilised tribes living there. From an information site on asparagus I´ve learnt that the vegetable is grown in England, but hardly in Scotland or Wales.
Now the greatest producers are Spain, Greece, France and Italy, but Germany isn´t far behind. I found figures for the year
2001: 65 000 t of asparagus were produced and each German ate nearly 2 kg. As there are Germans who never ever eat this vegetable, there must be people who virtually live on it during the season!
There has always been made a lot of fuss around this vegetable, in Germany two towns stand out in this field. Schrobenhausen, a small town in Upper Bavaria, sports the one and only European Asparagus Museum, Schwetzingen, a town in the land Baden-Württemberg, very near to the famous university town of Heidelberg, is the self-proclaimed most famous asparagus town of the world. The highlight of its annual festivities is the naming of the King or Queen- whoever weighs in the heaviest asparagus stalk. When I studied in Heidelberg this always used to amuse me and my friends very much, especially when there was a king what with the shape of the asparagus stalk!
It can´t come as a surprise to learn that given its phallic shape, asparagus is frequently enjoyed as an aphrodisiac food. A Vegetarian Society suggests, ´Feed your lover boiled or steamed spears for a sensuous experience´and, ´Eating asparagus for three days for the most powerful affect´. [I haven´t tried it, if you do, leave a comment, please, I can include your experience in an update:-)].
What is so special about asparagus? 95% of the plant is water, but the rest contains valuable minerals and vitamins, according to dietologists it is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K, folacin, a good source of dietry fibre and also supplies the B group vitamins thiamine and riboflavine, as well as potassium and iron, it cleans the blood, activates the kidneys and drains water out of the body. Unfortunately it has also an unpleasant side-effect, at least for one day the urine stinks repulsively, why that is so nobody can say for sure. There
are theories containing words like asparagine-amino-succinic-acid monoamide which sound quite convincing, but then only 50% of the asparagus eaters are affected which makes the whole thing quite mysterious.
The real aficionados don´t care, they love asparagus for the TASTE! There are innumerable ways of serving it as you can see on special sites dedicated to the Royal Vegetable, I´ve counted 40 different recipes before giving up. Before we can think of how to serve asparagus, we first must know of how to prepare it, mustn´t we? Here we go:
The asparagus must be fresh, that´s vital, it should best be eaten on the day of picking. The heads must still be closed, the stems must make a squeaking sound when you rub them against each other. Wash the stalks, cut off the end and peel them with a knife or a potato peeler. If you have to keep the asparagus for a day or two, wrap the stalks into a damp cloth such as a kitchen towel and put them in the fridge.
If you eat asparagus regularly, you may be interested in buying a high pot into which you can put the stalks upright. I don´t have one, what do I do with such a pot for the rest of the year? I use a flat one which is as big in diameter as the stalks are long. Fill the pot with so much water that the stalks are covered, add some butter (!) and sugar (!) and bring to boil. Add some salt before you put the stalks in, boil them for five minutes, then simmer for about 15 minutes.
The classical asparagus dish in Germany is: asparagus, boiled new potatoes, ham and Sauce Hollandaise. I buy it ready made, it tastes good and wouldn´t taste better if I prepared it myself.
Don´t throw the water away in which you´ve boiled the asparagus, put the peelings in and let them simmer for 20 minutes, you can then press them through a sieve to get some pulp out (and then throw the
m away), the liquid you´ve got now is a kind of stock; I´ve put it in the freezer and will use it in winter to make delicious asparagus soup.
White vegetables go well with white wine.
Summary: everything you've always wanted to know about asparagus