In the Store with Sigona’s Featuring: Asparagus (again!)
Diane Rezendes, food writer
We wrote about asparagus a few weeks ago. Today we’re taking another look, this time through a Bavarian lens. Germans consider the asparagus ‘the royal vegetable,’ though it’s no longer reserved for royalty as it once was.
April finds many German food lovers eagerly awaiting asparagus season, in part because it is a sign that the cold, snowy winter is finally over. Asparagus fever hits once the plant’s tips break the surface of the soil, usually mid-April, and runs through the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24.
If you were lucky enough to visit to Germany in spring, you’d know all about Spargelfest, the asparagus festival. Germans celebrate asparagus the way we Californians celebrate wine during barrel tasting. Two Spargelfest routes wind through asparagus country: one covers 85 miles and the other covers some 450 miles, with festivals all along the way. In some ways, however, Spargelfest is more like our food festivals. Visitors can feast on asparagus prepared in myriad ways, watch peeling contests, and witness the coronation of an asparagus king or queen. There are asparagus seminars, asparagus tours, and even a much-revered statue of the women of the asparagus fields. (Even today, this delicate vegetable must be gathered by hand.)
In the Kitchen
In Germany, where people eat asparagus every day in season (according to Spargelfest websites, with every meal if they can), cooks and chefs favor simple preparations that won’t overwhelm: with melted butter and new potatoes, for example, or with ham. We especially like brushing it with our extra virgin olive oil, grilling it, and then finishing it with a sprinkle of natural coarse-grain salt to give it a burst of flavor.
Treat asparagus the way you would a flower bouquet or a bunch of herbs: cut the bottoms and put them in a jar or glass. Place a loose plastic bag – maybe the Sigona’s bag you put them in when you bought them – and put them in the fridge. But consider the adage, “pick at morning, eat at midday.” You don’t have to take it literally, but know that the sooner you eat asparagus after purchase, the better it will be.
- The San Joaquin Stockton Asparagus Festival ended last weekend, so you may have to wait till next year if you want to fill up on goodies such as asparagus ice cream, pulled pork with asparagus slaw, and asparagus corn dogs.
- For those who are really into asparagus, or offbeat museums, the European Asparagus Museum covers three floors of a 15th-century tower in the Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen. Among the exhibits dedicated to the history, gastronomy, art and ephemera of the asparagus, visitors will find an Andy Warhol painting, “Silver Asparagus.”
- The world’s top producer is China (more than 15 billion pounds: for reference, the entire global yield is 17 billion pounds). The US comes in fifth, behind China, Peru, Germany and Mexico.