Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A touch of Spargel

I mentioned in my post on Würzburg, about how much I enjoyed a plate of white asparagus at the beer garden of Würzburger Hofbräu. Served with hollandaise sauce and new potatoes, it really was a dish fit for a king. That was not my first experience of the seasonal vegetable the Germans call Spargel; that happened three years previously, when I was staying in Nuremberg for the Fränkisches Bierfest. 
Whilst at the festival, I met up with ex-pat American and local beer enthusiast, Erlangernick Nick. Nick acted as my guide to the best beers at the festival, as with close on 40 breweries with stands there, some were bound to be better than others. It was therefore really good to be guided by someone with both knowledge and experience of the beer scene in that part of southern Germany.
I really enjoyed Nick’s company. He encouraged me to converse with him in German, so this  provided a good opportunity to practise both my listening and conversational skills. 
The festival itself was great fun and there were lots of interesting beers to try, but it did get very busy and rather crowded; and this was on the Friday afternoon! Saturday would no doubt prove even busier, so at Nicks ’s suggestion we decided it would be nice to get out of the city and experience some of the Franconian countryside.
The following day we met up at Roppelt’s Keller, in the tiny village of Stiebarlimbach, to the north-west of Forchheim. Nick had arrived by car, and would therefore not be drinking much, but explained his proposal to drive the two of us around a few Kellers in the area. There were a couple he wanted to check out, and he thought I would also like to visit some which were well off the beaten track.
Too right; I jumped at the chance, so after I had finished my beer, we set off in his car in order to sample a few of Franconia’s finest breweries and Kellers. Driving through the unspoilt countryside of the Steigerwald, in search of good local beer, with some vintage Yes playing on the car stereo, made me think “life doesn’t get much better than this,” and when we arrived at our first port of call I was right.
This first stop was the tiny village of Adelsdorf-Aisch; set on a hill overlooking the River Aisch, and its surrounding meadows. On the edge of the village, and overlooking the flatlands is the Brauerei & Gasthaus Rittmayer Aisch. Nick  informed me that there are three breweries in the region, all sharing the Rittmayer name, but the one in Aisch is the smallest. Just up from the pub and the brewery was the village church, making up that classic combination of pub and church which is so common in English villages as well.
We both went for the Hausbrauer-Bier and to eat the obvious choice was the local white asparagus, known in German as Spargel. This was my first experience of Spargel, and wrapped in slices of ham and served with boiled potatoes, it was delicious. The beer was good too, and sitting there under the shade of the chestnut tree, against the backdrop of the pub, brewery and the splendid view was really as good as things can get, so in some ways it was a shame we had to move on.
That first experience of Spargel was memorable, as was the location plus the company, and I deliberately went into a lot more detail than was strictly necessary for this write up. A handful of fellow bloggers, who know Nick better than I do, will appreciate the reason for this, so I won’t elaborate further, but on the off-chance that he does accidentally stumble upon this piece, I want him to know that his friends in England, and I’m sure in Franconia too, are thinking of him. For my part, I would like Nick to know, just how much I enjoyed that memorable trip we took together three years ago, on that baking hot day in late May, around some of Franconia’s finest Bierkellers.
Returning now to Spargel, and a word or two of explanation. White asparagus is really no different than normal green asparagus, expect that it is grown underground in small mounds. This prevents photosynthesis from occurring, thereby keeping the stalks from turning green. The white variation has a slightly milder and sweeter flavour than green, although in a blind tasting, you would need to be a connoisseur to tell the two apart. 

Green asparagus is usually best when picked early, because it will become woody and quite tough. White asparagus, on the other hand, can be grown for a while and the thickness has no impact on the tenderness. However, white asparagus should always be peeled before cooking. I brought some white asparagus back from my recent trip to Bamberg, and whilst I did mention this tip to my wife, she obviously wasn’t listening, and our Spargel was quite chewy.
The Germans take the Spargel season very seriously, probably because, like in England, the crop is only available for a short period. This starts in May and runs through into June, and take a walk through any local fruit and vegetable market during this time,  and you will see bundles of white asparagus piled up on display.
Most pubs and restaurants will feature at least one Spargel dish on their menus. It is estimated that 82,000 tons of Spargel are actually produced in Germany each year — which only meets around 60% of consumption needs. I understand the balance is imported from neighbouring countries, with France being the major exporter.
Asparagus thrives best in loose, sandy soil which is not too moist, but in theory can be grown on any soil that does not contain too many stones and is not waterlogged. Each region of Germany claims to grow the best spargel, but the states of Baden-Württemberg and Lower Saxony are the two most important asparagus areas. Further east,  the town of Beelitz, in the state of Brandenburg, is famed as the “AsparagusTown,” and even has a museum dedicated to Spargel.
As for me, whilst I have obviously enjoyed my encounters with White Asparagus in Germany, I still prefer the much more usual green version. I find it more tender and more subtle in taste, but this is probably down to familiarity, than anything else.
One final point, and just to muddy the waters even further, there is a much rarer purple variety of asparagus, but in order to appreciate the purple colour, it has to be eaten raw, as it turns green when cooked!


Russtovich said...

"It was therefore really good to be guided by someone with both knowledge and experience of the beer scene in that part of southern Germany."

Agree. A happy circumstance that.

"but explained his proposal to drive the two of us around a few Kellers in the area."

The German version of RM and Si. :)

"so in some ways it was a shame we had to move on."

In some ways that is what life is all about.

"I want him to know that his friends in England, and I’m sure in Franconia too, are thinking of him."

I won't ask, but you can add Canada to that. :(

"she obviously wasn’t listening, and our Spargel was quite chewy."


"but in order to appreciate the purple colour, it has to be eaten raw, as it turns green when cooked!"

I think I'll just stick to beer then. :)


PS - "and there were lots of interesting bees to try,"

I think I'd forgo the bees and stick to beers. :)

Russtovich said...

Forgot to add; just watched Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter episode with regards to Franconia again (episode 4, The Fifth Element). Even 25 odd years ago he thought, like you, that's it's a wonderful region for beer. :)


ETU said...

It's interesting, how what we see has an effect on how we taste things.

In blind tastings, and with the same preparation, most people cannot tell red peppers from green, nor red cabbage from green or white.

You just wouldn't fancy bubble-and-squeak made with red cabbage though, not least because it goes a livid deep turquoise when cold, maybe, like the ink of lunatics...

However, it sounds like this variety of asparagus has a different consistency too. Does it still have the well-known effect of the green stuff though?



Paul Bailey said...

Hi Russ, I’ll definitely be sticking to beers rather than bees! Typo duly corrected, thank-you.

I’m still cross that the Beer Hunter remains blocked on YouTube, here in the UK, and even more annoyed at the programme makers’ refusal to make DVD copies of the series commercially available.

ETU, the colour change which red cabbage undergoes when cold is quite fascinating. Although we do tend to eat (and drink), with our eyes, the blue colour wouldn’t put me off from eating it – even in bubble-and-squeak.

The answer to your last question is, yes it does!

Russtovich said...

Let's see if this works:



Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the link, Russ. It does appear to work, but I am at work at the moment, so will check it out properly when I get home.

I didn’t go online at all last night, as I was occupied watching a certain football match. You are probably aware that it didn’t end as (most) people in England would have liked, but the team did well to get as far as they did.

Looking forward to watching the late, great Michael Jackson’s visit to Franconia, later this evening, so thank-you in advance.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Russ, the link works well, thank-you. I have really enjoyed watching the "Fifth Element" again.

Russtovich said...

Glad I could help Paul. :)


PS - I caught as much of the match as I could (the final 10 minutes plus the extra time). Agreed they made a fairly good accounting of themselves.