Nicolas-Henry Jeaurat de Bertry, Still Life of Asparagus , 18th century
oil on canvas on panel, 25.5 x 36 cm, Private collection This looks
like the ingredients to a nice recipe with (right to left) butter, onion, garlic
and white asparagus.
To understand the German love for white asparagus it helps to know a little of their history. Spargels most likely came to Germany via the Roman empire after their conquest and used the lush farmland in the Rhineland to help supply growing demand in Rome.
When the Roman empire crumbled so did the asparagus industry and became virtually unknown.
Cultivating was revived later starting with monks in the mid 16th century but as with so many foods it was more for medicinal purposes. The vegetable increased in polularity. Why then did they start " Whitening" or as they call it "Bleaching" the Spargels? There is a cool legend that once a hailstorm destroyed an asparagus crop and the town was forced to eat the part that was underground and found it more tender and sweeter. They started piling soil around the spears as they shot up or put a cover on it.
This could be part true I believe because necessity is usually the mother of invention and protecting your crop with covers or insulating with earth only seems like a logical solution.
Perhaps the German's love for asparagus is strong because it was once just for royalty. That is why they call it "Das Königsgemüse (the royal vegetable) or " das Weißgold" meaning white gold.
Now they grow they grow the best Weiss Spargel in the world. In Germany maybe imported is cheaper but true lovers pay the price for locally grown, where it is hand picked in the gray of the morning so the tips don't turn green, and as the saying goes, "Picked in the morning and eaten at midday.
before 500 BC: It may have come first from China, but also in Greece and Persia it was like the wild asparagus of today and used for medicinal purposes.
400 BC: Hippocrates mentioned wild asparagus as a medicinal plant in his writings.
around 160 BC: Cato the Roman wrote about how best to farm Asparagus for eating not just medicine. Apicius the Roman food expert made ? The first written recipe for asparagus.
100 B.C.- 350 B.C. The demand for asparagus in the Roman empire exceeded what they could grow. Probably it was grown in Trier in the Rhineland (the oldest city in Germany)
350 B.C. Approximately.
With the fall of the Roman Empire asparagus farms died out, and for many years it was forgotten as a vegetable.
at 900: As monasteries were built in Germany the asparagus was back growing but for medicinal purposes.
in 1565: The Royal families in France started to raise asparagus as the Romans did for eating and the idea followed in Germany. The first documented cultivation of asparagus in Germany - in the Lustgarten in Stuttgart.
1750: Start of the "mass production" of asparagus, due to increased knowledge of farming techniques.
1760: "discovery" of keeping asparagus white, through techniques learned from Holland farmers.
1852: First canned preservation of asparagus in Brunswick, Germany.
Source: "Asparagus, history, cultivation Recipes" by Englert and Wodatz
Why does some of the world call it Asparagus and some call it Spargel?
The word comes probably as far back as a Persian word for "shoot"... was "Asparg". The A was dropped in Europe and variations for the word sparge or Spargel became the norm. In England some referred to it as, sparrow- grass. Some felt such a royal vegetable shouldn't be called something so mundane so experts began to refer to it as Asparagus. The Germans kept the name Spargel though.
The Schwetzingen Castle today and The Royal Garden
White Asparagus Techniques
In Holland and Belgium vegetables like celery and Endive were kept from the sun to keep out the chlorophyll production that and produces a milder flavor. Legend has it that a farmer noticed this by plucking a leaf from Endive in his cellar where the plants were stored and the flavor was so mild and nice.
This is a clay bell that was used to cover an asparagus plant so it would grow without the sun.
This is a wooden cover to put over the Asparagus stalk.
A Modern day Asparagus Farm , (Spargel Bauer ) where you mound the dirt up over the asparagus plant and cover with plastic.
The beautiful asparagus tips start to push through, they are ready to pick.
Unearthing the asparagus and cutting the stalk with a special tool.
I order from the German Deli more frequently than ever.
I try to get in bulk to make the shipping dollars count.
Also there are sales all the time I like to take advantage of.
They are nice folks. If you don't believe me call them.
and tell them Stephen Block sent you from the German Goodies Newsletter. Shop for German Food