May 15, 2014
Spring-time’s Finest (Part 1)
As Spring warms up the soil (finally!!) and the trees throw out their leaves a marvelous event takes place as the first spears of asparagus spring from the surface. So sure a sign of spring and a return to all things gastronomically wonderful and restorative are those first shoots that Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, both avid farmers, used to have a friendly competition as to who would see the season’s first asparagus make it to the dinner table each spring. Jefferson liked nothing better that to have his friend over to dinner and surprise him with a tender, early crop of that vegetable that he so learned to love during his years in France. So it has always been for that most noble of vegetables!! King Louis XIV famously asked the royal gardener La Quintinie to provide him with fresh asparagus even in December; forcing the great gardener to design indoor hot beds to provide the royal table year round with the King’s favorite go-to vegetable. And so it goes even today….
Although France is the first country to come to many Chefs’ minds when thinking about asparagus, and they certainly do eat their share, Germany is the true heart and soul in Europe of this harbinger of spring. While I lived there, I was fortunate to live near the town of Spyer, reputed to be the “Spargel Kapital Das Welt”. In Germany, “Spargel” means asparagus, and that always means white asparagus. Green asparagus (known locally as “gruner Spargel”) is much less popular. In fact, the town of Spyer is to white asparagus as the town of Epernay is to champagne. That is to say, the center of a great region producing the finest products in Europe. There is even a life size bronze statue of a farmwoman selling bundles of asparagus in the town markplatz, so you know they take their asparagus seriously!!