Why Do Germans Love Asparagus?
I’m afraid I have a terrible admission: I hate asparagus. On the face of it, this isn’t really that controversial, then again, I happen to live in Germany. To declare your dislike for Spargel (Asparagus) here is sacrilegious, given the near religious euphoria that the Germans have for Spargelzeit or the period when Asparagus is harvested. Spargelzeit, depending on the weather, usually starts in April and ends in June and during this time my life seems to revolve around the elaborate ways in which I can avoid eating asparagus or worst still talking about it. Here in Bavaria, it seems that everyone loves the stuff; farmers are digging it up, placards at the side of the road announce its availability with gusto and people buy it by the metric tonne.
I have tried to find the origin of my spargel hatred, if only to convince my wife to stop buying it. I pointed out to her recently that my father, in typical dad joke fashion, would often refer to it as “Sparra’s guts” or “Sparrows Guts” in a Geordie play on words. This has clearly damaged me irreparably, I declared. However, having known me for long enough she saw right through my veil of bullshit.
It is clear from living in Germany over the last seven years, that in order to be fully integrated into German society I must find a hidden love for spargel. It is, apparently, Germany’s favourite vegetable. According to statistics, roughly 125,000 tonnes of Asparagus is eaten every year and unlike the UK, the most popular type is the white asparagus. Once Spargelzeit is in full swing, you will find restaurants trying to put it into practically everything, from salads, to soups and even schnapps. Although I have yet to see it, I would be unsurprised to find some monster attempting to put it into ice cream or making a cake with the nauseating slimy stalks.
Weird culinary adventures aside, the usual serving suggestion to be found is white asparagus, boiled potatoes and ham. Thankfully, this bland combination is livened up by the liberal use of Hollandaise Sauce, which is both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because it at least gives Satan’s trees some kind of flavour and a curse because I have to drink pints and pints of the stuff just to stomach a couple of spears. If the taste doesn’t kill me, I am sure to die of a coronary infarction brought about by a Hollandaise overdose.
When I mention that Spargel tastes like a giant boiled insect leg, I am met with blank stares and derision, especially here in Bavaria. If you ever wish to be silently murdered in your sleep, deride spargel loud enough for everyone to hear and you will surely make some life-long enemies in the south of Germany. Spargelzeit is serious business. I have had flyers posted through my door, reminding me that the asparagus orgy is soon to begin. I have seen billboards, with gurning faces imploring me to eat it. I once saw a small child using an asparagus stalk in lieu of a dummy and, although I may have dreamt it, I am positive I saw a bride entering a church with a bouquet of the stuff. I have yet to meet a single German that doesn’t like it.
The reverence that Germans have for asparagus extends to the appointment of village and town Spargelkönigin or Asparagus queens, who are crowned in elaborate ceremonies. Frankly I have no idea what their purpose is, but I can assume that I will be unceremoniously executed should I ever stray into these dark and foreboding lands. This really speaks to the power asparagus holds over the populace that they are willing to appoint a monarch to represent it. I really like carrots, but I am unlikely to gain much support if I were to suggest we overthrow the existing apparatus of state, in order to crown some poor woman, the Queen of carrots.
All joking aside, Spargelzeit is only one event that speaks to the German love of seasonal vegetables and fruit. Although the larger supermarkets do provide seasonal fresh produce all year round, many people avoid buying products that are out season. Whether this is a matter of taste or an awareness of the environmental impact of providing mangos all year round is not clear. Yet, living as I do, near a large area of near urban farm land, many of the supermarkets will only provide produce that is locally grown. Placing such seasonal restrictions on products is odd for the British, since all major supermarkets in the UK offer a variety of items all year round. This is possibly because the UK follows the mantra that the customer is always right, whereas Germany believes the customer should shut up and stop complaining. In this respect, I tend to agree with the Germans.
My vehement hatred of asparagus is one of the many hurdles I face in becoming a German, maybe over time I will learn to love it as much as everyone else, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.