GERMANS are a little obsessed with asparagus. White asparagus, that is. As soon as the season begins in April, little farm stands pop up at the side of the road and all restaurants from the smallest eatery to the classiest establishment offer at least one special dish featuring local harvest. Far away in the US, we thought wistfully of the tender shoots, until we received a lovely surprise package full of the yummy veggie! We quickly cooked it up and served it traditionally with a hollandaise sauce and boiled potatoes.
Once in Germany at the appointed time, I was looked at in astonishment when I asked if there was any kind of 'pick your own' we could go to. I've since discovered there is great skill involved in harvesting asparagus, which is all done by hand. The shoots are kept from turning green by keeping earth piled up around them, preventing the production of chlorophyll by exposure to sunlight. Workers scour the mounds of earth looking for cracks, which would indicate a spear is about to burst through. Then they dig around in the earth and cut off the shoot at its base. To give the shoots maximum growing time yet prevent them ever seeing a sun ray, a field is harvested two or three times daily. Asparagus season always ends on June 24, the birth date of Saint John the Baptist. After this time, no asparagus may be bought or sold by law.