Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's Asparagus Season. Time to eat White Gold


It is Asparagus season!!! Time to eat white gold

In fact I am late, my excuses for that but better late than never as the saying goes. In Europe were the seasonal tradition is kept high, the asparagus season starts Mid- April and ends in June, on June 24 to be precise, the feast of John the Baptist.

The timing has a reason as the ground needs to be at a certain temperature before the spears start to grow towards the sun. The spears are covered with soil so they stay white. Long stretches of ‘dyke like’ patched up soil can be seen when you travel through one of touristic asparagus routes set out during the asparagus season in Germany, Belgium and the South of Holland.

The ultra violet of the sun, which makes exposed parts of vegetables green, is not able to oxidize the asparagus skin. White asparagus or white gold as they are also called are the delicious result.

When the ground ‘cracks’ the farmers know that the asparagus is ready for harvest, the ground is carefully removed around that single piece and with a long ‘looks like a screw driver’ tool, the asparagus is then cut from the base underground.

Asparagus harvesters are hawk-eyed buggers, inspecting the stretches of asparagus dykes from the early morning until midday. The moment a crack is spotted, the asparagus is in the bag, quite like salmon fishing with your bare hands.
As said, the season is from Mid-April until the end of June, officially the season last only 9 weeks and that makes asparagus so special. The crowd is drawn from hundreds of miles away, tracking the asparagus routes and buying some of the freshest asparagus straight of the field.

Unlike in the US were asparagus can be found year round, it needs mentioning here that there is a famous asparagus festival in Stockton CA on June 25, Europe keeps the seasonal tradition high and you need to have a look in history to get a better understanding why that is so.

Asparagus most likely came to Germany after the conquest of the Roman Empire using the lavish land to comply with high demands for asparagus in their homeland. When the Roman Empire crumbled the asparagus industry diminished and became virtually unknown, only to be revived in the mid-16th century by monastery monks.

Asparagus were green those years. A cool legend has it that a hailstorm once destroyed a complete harvest and the locals were forced to eat the small remaining part that was left underground. This part, being white, happened to be much tenderer than the green asparagus the people were used to, hence the popularity of the white asparagus. 

Asparagus 'dykes' 
The sprouts were covered with soil to be protected from weather conditions and the tenderer white asparagus was born.
Another tale relates the popularity of asparagus to the fact that is was once a Royal food and who doesn't want to eat royal food that is referred to as white gold.

The word asparagus is probably as old as the road to Rome so to speak. It is said that the word comes from the Persian word for ‘shoot’ which is asparg. The first A was dropped in Europe and Sparg or Spargel became the common mentioning of the vegetable. The British started calling the white gold ‘sparrow grass’ which annoyed some experts who found that such a Royal vegetable should have a classier name and referred to it as Asparagus.

Asparagus grow as a shoot from long horizontal placed strings of the mother plant, placed under ground the shoot works its way up towards the sun and when exposed to sunlight chloroform from the plant oxidizes and the asparagus turns green.

Early days asparagus cover
To prevent this from happening, pots were placed on top of the vegetable to stop the penetration of sunlight. Later farmers found the dyke method a better and easier way to produce the white gold vegetable.

There is still little time left to enjoy asparagus, when you follow the season that is.

In my next blog I will give you some great traditional asparagus recipes to enjoy and how to vacuum and keep asparagus for when the season is over.   

If you like to purchase a vacuum sealer before the next blog, find them here:


By: Marinus Hoogendoorn



Rebecca said...

I’ll be looking forward to the asparagus recipes! They do sell fresh white asparagus in the US. Although, it’s kind of expensive and difficult to find. I may need to adapt the recipes to the green variety. Anyway, it’s interesting to read about how they are grown and the history.

Mandy said...

I also am in the US and enjoy green asparagus very much. I've never had the white variety, and this post makes me want to try it! I think I can find it at an independent grocery that specializes in fresh produce.

I usually just steam asparagus, but a friend keeps telling me it would be better to roast it. What do you think is the best way to quickly make and enjoy fresh asparagus?

Marinus said...

Look out for my next blog where I will post some traditional recipe for the white version of asparagus.

I must say that that your friend is right, peeled green asparagus, seasoned and tossed with some olive oil, then straight on the grill is a great way of preparing and enjoying green asparagus. They cook really quick this way, just keep rolling them around and check with a small knife if they are soft.

Kim said...

I had always wondered why they were white. I had always assumed that they were that color for the same reason cauliflower is. Would they start to green within 24 hours if the farmers didn't pick them immediately? I love asparagus – I usually cook it simply with butter and a little salt and pepper. My mouth is watering just thinking about it

Marinus said...

As long as the asparagus are protected from sunlight and remain underground they will keep a white color. If not picked quickly they will lose there moist and wither, so quick harvest is eminent for quality.

Cauliflower is white because the fruit (the cauliflower itself) is covered with the big leaves while on the field preventing sunlight from reaching the plant.

Tammy said...

I absolutely love asparagus! I’ve been eating it with most of my meals lately. I didn’t realize that there were two types and that one was more tender than the other. I usually eat the green asparagus, but I’ll give the white one a try. In the pictures, the white ones even look bigger; are they?

Andrea Robinson said...

I had never heard of white asparagus before reading about it in this blog. I love green asparagus -- it's a family favorite! My parents used to grow it in the back yard.

Thanks for the etymology of the name. I love stories about how things came to be.

Your blogs are always interesting and have a lot of great tips, too!

Thanks so much.