Lately you may have noticed a few posters in the windows of German shops announcing the approach of that special time of year. Yes indeed, Spargelzeit is coming! And while we prepare for an onslaught of stands offering to sell this white asparagus at bargain prices, you may be wondering- what exactly is Spargel? Why is it so special? What’s the big idea? With this in mind I sat down with self-proclaimed Spargel expert, Herr Johann Spargelbach, to find out more about this German tradition.
George: Thank you very much for sitting down and agreeing to talk to me, Herr Spargelbach.
Herr Spargelbach: Of course! It’s my pleasure to tell you about the Spargel.
George: Well, first things first- can you please tell us some more about Spargelzeit?
Herr Spargelbach: Absolutely! In Germany, Spargelzeit is the name given to a period of time when the Spargel harvest is at its peak. In a way, it is a symbolic period which marks the first successful harvest following the winter. In another way, it is an excuse for farmers to rid themselves of a plant which grows with such speed it could almost be a weed (sometimes several inches in a day).
George: Ha! That’s funny, good one.
Herr Spargelbach: Oh I’m quite serious.
George: How does one harvest Spargel?
Herr Spargelbach: Actually, it can be very difficult. The Spargel is extremely fragile and therefore cannot be collected with modern farming machinery. Instead, the farmer must go and personally harvest each individual stalk. Sometimes teams will be hired to collect the Spargel. Other times a farmer can even “sell” the experience to customers who will pay handsomely to dig in the dirt and pick the Spargel themselves!
George: Isn’t Spargel just asparagus?
Herr Spargelbach: Was? Heavens no! Asparagus is a dirty, disgusting vegetable. The Spargel is pure and white, buried under mounds of dirt, never allowed to see the sunlight until it is picked.
George: But it’s the same plant, no?
Herr Spargelbach: Yes, this is true. But in following with tradition, the pure white Spargel is much more preferred.
George: When does Spargel harvest begin?
Herr Spargelbach: Hmm… this is difficult to determine. Usually the Spargel is at its peak in mid-April, but it depends on a number of factors.
George: Such as?
Herr Spargelbach: How long the winter was, how warm it is, the type of soil, the sacrifice that was made, and other things.
Herr Spargelbach: Ah yes, this is, ah… to say, whether… hard work has been done. Yes! This.
George: I see. And when does Spargelzeit end?
Herr Spargelbach: Traditionally June 24th. But it also depends on the sacrifice.
George: And how does one celebrate Spargelzeit?
Herr Spargelbach: In many ways! It is a tradition that is as old as Germany itself, steeped in mystery. Some villages have dinners with the main course being the Spargel. Others even have festivals where they crown a Spargelkönigin– er, a Spargel Queen.
George: Ha! You’re joking!
Herr Spargelbach: No. Why would one joke about such a thing?
George: So there really is a Spargel Queen? What does she do?
Herr Spargelbach: The Spargelkönigin is intended to best represent the Spargel. She is typically a fair maiden, raised on a farm, and taught the ways of the Spargel from an early age. After a closed council makes their decision on each region’s queen, she receives her crown and attends press conferences, festivals, etc. At the end of the season she and the other queens begin the Sacrifice to ensure a good harvest.
George: …you keep using this word, “sacrifice”. It’s a little unsettling.
Herr Spargelbach: This is Germany, there is nothing unsettling about it.
George: How is Spargel prepared?
Herr Spargelbach: Oh! In so many ways! Special pots can be purchased to ensure the best flavor, but simply boiling and buttering is a fantastic way to prepare it. The Spargel can be served as a main dish, in a soup, as a dessert, alongside the Sacrifice- truly a large variety. And be sure to remember the hollandaise sauce!
George: I also hear that there are male and female versions of Spargel?
Herr Spargelbach: Ah… yes, I believe I know what you mean. The male variety is longer.
George: Also- I bet because it looks rather phallic, no?
Herr Spargelbach: (blank stare) The Spargel is no joking matter.
George: I mean, one can joke about it a little, no?
Herr Spargelbach: The Spargelzeit is a hallowed tradition found throughout Germany. We pay homage to the Spargel so that we may be able to learn its mysterious ways. From an early age all who live within Germany’s borders are taught how to tend to the Spargel, how to serve the Spargel, and how to honor the Spargel.
George: Now it sounds like a cult.
Herr Spargelbach: Cult? There is no cult. Only the Spargel and the Sacrifice.
George: See! There! You used the word “sacrifice” again!
Herr Spargelbach: I… I must not… I should not…
George: Herr Spargelbach, please- what is it you aren’t telling me?
Herr Spargelbach: It… It is all a lie. The Spargelzeit. It is all a terrible lie to sell the Spargel. It is a legend as old as time. When we were but nomadic tribes of Keltoi, the Spargel was discovered both as a way to defeat our enemies and as well as being high in vitamin A. In the early times of Gaul, the Spargel was known as “the Spear of the Germani” and feared by the Romans. Throughout history- so much blood has been shed over control of the Spargel! Then came the dark times. Under the control of Frederick the Great, the Spargel was replaced by… the Kartoffel. For many years we prospered with the Kartoffel, only to realize it was a false god. Have you never wondered why there are no Kartoffel festivals? No Kartoffel stands? NO KARTOFFELKÖNIGINEN? The Spargel was the only true way. And so the Believers, we began to hide the Spargel underground, and were forced to eat it as quickly as it grew. The stench of our urine can still be smelt in the central station of Bonn! As prophesied, the Spargel has made its return- but not without the Sacrifice.
George: …that is insane. I cannot begin to tell you how factually incorrect that is.
Herr Spargelbach: I TELL YE, IT IS TRUE!
George: What are your qualifications again?
Herr Spargelbach: You found me on the street eating raw asparagus from a dumpster.
George: …so where can one find the best Spargel?
Herr Spargelbach: Oh, Baden-Württemberg, but it’s not worth it. You know how crazy those people are.
George: Thank you for speaking with me!
Herr Spargelbach: You’re welcome! Praise the Spargel!
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