Asparagus and the Art of Delayed Gratification

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Asparagus is a great word. If I was a vegetable, I wouldn’t mind being called asparagus.

(I bring up asparagus—sorry, the word deserves a space in each of the three sentences I’ve written so far—because it’s in season right now. Just an FYI, the German word is ‘spargel’—pronounced ‘shpargle.’)

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Not the most attractive vegetable.

The fact that it’s in season over here in Baden-Wuerttemberg might not seem like a big deal to most people reading this, but I’ll tell you what. It’s a big freaking deal. Germans refer to it as ‘white gold,’ if that gives you any idea of the value they assign it.

I was curious about why it’s known as ‘white gold’ so I did some intensive Internet research and learned that it all goes back to Louis XIV who decided he had a hankering for the vegetable. It was served to noble people at lots of fancy- schmancy dinners. And, for the longest time they kept it all for themselves and wouldn’t share because they’d claimed it as a rich person’s veggie, like the rutabagas or sunchokes of today. (I have no idea what rutabagas or sunchokes even are. So, I assume they’re reserved for rich people. Bastards.)

But, starting in the 19th century, it all trickled down to the ‘little’ people and now even frizzy-headed expats who are fond of licking their plates after dinner (only at home, though, I swear) can enjoy it, too.

(Just to be clear, we’re talking about white asparagus and not the tiny green ones with frayed ends. The kind that sometimes, when you try to cut it, splits up the length of the spear into white, stringy pieces that you have to wind around your fork like spaghetti.

Also, just another little FYI, what drains white asparagus of its green color is that the plants are kept out of direct sunlight. So, chlorophyll never ‘happens.’ Who knew asparagus was so interesting?)

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White asparagus being harvested. You’re going to come out of this post an expert on all things asparagus.

Anyway, the season begins in early May and ends in late June. During that time, you see asparagus everywhere. Stores, farmers markets, sold out of caravans off the highways.

Most restaurants add their own seasonal asparagus page to the asparagus-792221_1920menu. My personal favorite is the standard ½ pound steamed and soaked in Hollandaise sauce (this yellow, creamy, decadent sauce that smothers any nutritional value that was in the vegetable. Best way to eat vegetables.) But there’s also asparagus-cream soup, asparagus in pizzas, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, asparagus in pancakes, and asparagus chopped up into millions of pieces and added to ground beef to make meatballs.

I made up the last one. Is it obvious I don’t do much cooking?

Asparagus is known as a royal vegetable in Germany, and I live just down the road from the town of Schwetzingen, otherwise known as the ASPARAGUS CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. (According to Schwetzingen.)

As a kind of verification of their status, they’ve set out a bronze statue of a woman farming asparagus right in front of the castle. And, every year there’s a festival devoted to their culinary treasure.

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One of the medieval huts.

Todd and I went two years ago and there were lots of beer tents and wine huts and a whole medieval section (because what’s a German festival without throwing in bear skin capes, swords, and chain mail?)

Strangely enough, I found very little evidence of actual asparagus at the festival.

But, no matter.  Sometimes I think the ultra-private Germans organize all these festivals just to have the excuse to drag their lederhosen out of the closet and let go of their German-ness for a while by dancing on top of tables, singing, and engaging in acts of widely accepted public drunkenness.

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Me, looking very pleased with the ‘glass’ of white wine they gave me at the fest.

As a side note, said acts of public drunkenness are almost always accompanied by the following songs; seriously, go to any fest in Germany and I guarantee you’ll hear them;

99 Luftballons

Ein Prosit

Country Roads

Hey Baby (i.e. the song from Dirty Dancing,)

Wahnsinn Hoelle, Hoelle, Hoelle

Sweet Caroline

Next Door to Alice (to which Germans yell “Who the Fuck is Alice?” in English after each chorus.)

Good times.

The town of Beelitz also has a huge asparagus festival, and they even elect a queen. (Which leads me to wonder if they’re secretly trying to usurp Schwetzingen’s throne?)

Last year’s royalty was 26 year old Dana Beiler. She described her crowning moment in an article on NPR,

“I sent my application to the Asparagus Association. Then I had an interview with the farmers and had to answer some asparagus questions.” She says the farmers wanted to hear her opinion on the challenges faced by the revered vegetable.”

So, again, you might be reading this and ask—but why is asparagus such a big deal?

Because when things that aren’t in season in Germany, they simply aren’t in season. You can’t get them.

In the States just about anything you could ever want is available year round. Here, that’s not the case.   You say you’re in the mood for radishes, strawberries, peaches, cherries, plums, or redcurrant (whatever that is?) Sorry! You have to wait.

It all reminds me of times I went shopping with my parents as a kid.

We’d walk into Sears and they’d say, “Okay, we’re not riding the mechanical rocket ship today, Sarah. So, don’t even ask.”

And I obviously always wanted to ride it. But I never asked. I just waited.

Then sometimes we’d go to Sears and they’d lead me right over to the mechanical rocket ship, stick a quarter in, and I got to ride. In those moments there was nothing better than that rocket ship, my parents, or that five minutes.

My parents knew enough to delay gratification here and there because, sure, you want it more. But you also appreciate it more when the time comes.

And, it’s that exact scenario that has me acting like a dog in heat the minute I know something that comes from the edible shoots of a perennial and is made up of 95% water is finally on the menu for two months.

Now that I think about it, I feel that sense of delayed gratification in the summer, here, too.

In German summer, you sweat. You step on to the tram along with a hundred other people, and there’s always that one in the bunch who forgot deodorant and you can just about chew the stench.

You walk slowly and stare up at outdoor clocks that say it’s 35 degrees, and you’re too hot to do the conversion to Fahrenheit so you just accept that it’s hot. Vietnam hot (if you’ve seen Good Morning Vietnam.)

In restaurants you fan yourself with the menu. You sit by the window to catch a breeze. Children swim in fountains. You learn to put your rolladens down at certain times to trap the cool air inside (Germans have this down to a fine art.)

You live in your basement, if you have one. You sleep on top of your sheets at night. You suffer until three a.m.

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Picture I took of my city while out hiking one summer day. It was so hot I almost fainted a few times. But the view was nice.

In the States you just…go inside, anywhere at all, and most likely the AC’s on high and you need a sweater and boots and earmuffs, but you feel comfortable. I guess.

Here? No.

There isn’t any asparagus, so there isn’t any asparagus. There’s heat, so there’s heat. You’re forced to live the reality.

But when a cool day finally does comes around—wow. It’s amazing. It’s a gift. It’s a seriously big deal.

You appreciate it because there isn’t the immediate gratification of getting whatever we wanted in the moment. You had to wait for it. To be given it. I kind of like this aspect of the German living.

However.

If I desperately want blackberries and it isn’t blackberry season, you can be sure I’ll have Todd pick me some up from the commissary.

That’s the Buffalo in me.

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30 thoughts on “Asparagus and the Art of Delayed Gratification

  1. I have been thinking this exact thing recently. Delayed gratification. How I hardly know what that even is anymore. How my children hardly ever experience it. But it’s so important because when that breeze finally comes, when that strawberry finally ripens we are so thankful. I don’t know if you can be thankful otherwise. Thanks for your words! I think they are inspiring for my post today. 🙂

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    • Thank you for your comment! I really enjoyed your post today, too. 🙂 Delayed gratification really is important. It’s something I want to ensure Laken experiences just because, as you said, people hardly experience it anymore. Feeling that excitement over asparagus earlier in the week (when I realized it was in season) made me think about how much more exciting all kinds of things might be if I had to wait. P.S. Your comment just made me desperately want strawberries. And they, too, are in season!

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  2. When I was, I think, ten or eleven I became obsessed with asparagus after trying some canned and really liking it. My parents planted a garden and planted asparagus but it would be three years before it would be mature enough to eat. THREE YEARS! Remember how long even a single year was when you were a kid? I figured in three years we’d be living on the moon and having all our meals in pill form by the time the asparagus was ready. During that time I also read “Stalking The Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons and developed a new obsession with eating weeds, but that’s another story.
    Eventually the asparagus matured and I learned the difference between canned asparagus and fresh is kind of like the difference between pizza and a drawing of a pizza.
    One night we also had a very fancy dinner at a very fancy hotel that started with cream of asparagus soup made with bona fide white asparagus. Heaven. I never knew at the time how proper it was that the meal was finished with Black Forest cake.
    And things being only available in season reminds me of the Brothers Grimm Story “The Three Little Men In The Woods”, in which a kind girl is given strawberries in the middle of winter. So if a bunch of short guys ask you to share your bread and sweep their back porch say YES.
    Thank you for giving me something to chew on other than stench and heat.

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    • You are HILARIOUS. I would like to read a whole post by you about asparagus after reading just this comment about asparagus. (Seriously, I can’t get enough of that word.) It cracked me up when you talked about the obsession with eating weeds. That’s ‘another story’ I’d like to know! That catch phrase of yours is fantastic. I find myself saying it now in conversation; it just kind of comes out. (Don’t worry–I’m not going to steal it!) Anyway, there really isn’t anything like white asparagus. I had no idea it took three years to harvest (until I did my intensive Wikipedia research for this post, that is.) Three years definitely would have done me in as a kid. We actually planted corn in our back yard and it was actually pretty funny because, well, I’m from Buffalo, NY. Our suburbs didn’t have a whole lot of corn stalks growing in the back yard. 🙂 But it was so fun to go out to the garden and pick all the stalks. On a final note–any meal that ends with Black Forest cake is a real winner. Hands down. Automatic win.

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      • I’ll let you in on a secret: my line “That’s another story” was taken from Alton Brown. On his cooking show “Good Eats” he’d regularly say what he was making could be used in another recipe “but that’s another show”. Even if I could I wouldn’t stop anyone else from using it wherever and whenever.
        Also I forgot to mention that every year on Christmas Eve I make eggs Benedict for my wife, smothered in Hollandaise. It’s very tasty stuff but culinary nitroglycerin. As soon as it’s made it starts breaking down.
        I should put it on asparagus for her sometime.

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      • YES you need to put it on asparagus! Or why even do that…skip the pretense and eat it straight from a bowl. That’s what I’d like to do. Also, along with the asparagus and hollandaise sauce, you need to complete the meal with ‘new potatoes.’ I have no idea why they’re called new potatoes, but that’s what the menu always says. They always look like regular potatoes to me, but maybe there’s something ‘new’ about them. As for ‘but that’s another show’–I like it, but it’s even better in your blogs, I think. It’s your line as far as I’m concerned. I would never use it! (Though, I’m slightly jealous and wish I had a line I used all the time.) I’ve been thinking about things that I say in conversation regularly and not much comes to mind. I say, “That’s it” quite a lot and I say, “very true.” Neither of those work. Hmm.

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  4. This is a great post! Where I live in Kansas, the local farming and food community is extensive and important to the community. Our family with many young children are learning the lesson of delayed gratification. It too is asparagus season and we eat as much as we can while we can and while it is local. Once it isn’t anymore, that is all for us. Even though the store will still carry it, no thanks. Same with berries, cantaloupe and sweet corn. It is made that much more special by waiting for the harvest. Thank you for this post!

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    • Thank you for your comment! I smiled the whole way through! (As a side note, our best friends live in Kansas–Dodge City to be exact.) Anyway, I love that you stick to what’s local and seasonal and avoid the store. I really need to do that. I appreciate the way things are in Germany, but the problem is that my husband can access the commissary on base. So, it’s tempting to pick up those things that we can’t get at the moment. Ugh! Anyway, I will be checking out your blog!!!! (Probably tomorrow, though, just because my daughter went to bed and I have a few things to get done around the house.) 🙂

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      • I am FROM Dodge City, lived there the entire first part of my life! We still go back to the area a few times a years to visit my Aunt who is 96 years young. Tell me more about your friends!

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      • Are you serious? What a small world! That’s really funny! :-)) My friends are both opera singers and they teach at the university, there. They moved to Dodge City something like four years ago? It doesn’t seem like it has been that long, but maybe it has! They seem to like it, there, but they also miss Europe (where they lived for a long time.) They’ve sent pictures of tumbleweed and it seems very Kansasian (is that a word?) 🙂 Do you miss your home town?

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      • Honestly NO! It might be the worst place ever to grow up and the landscape and wind is horrendous. Two things that always come to mind when I think of that place: until the last year there wasn’t a single place to dine where you can could anything resembling a green leaf lettuce (there is one place now), and before I married my partner we were taking a “walk-about” drinking wine and seeing the town on foot, a car of people drove by threw a beer bottle at us and yelled “get a car!” Every time I go back, I am grateful to be now living in what is truly the most beautiful thriving part of Kansas. Glad your friends are happy there and I will look forward to more of your writing!

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  5. 1. I love asparagus
    2. I love asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
    3. I CANNOT spell asparagus without the help of auto-correct hahhahaha

    I grew up in a communist country. Back when Ceausescu was in charge everything was rationed out (you got 1 bread, 1 bottle of milk, 1 kg of meat, etc at certain intervals). People hated it, but he built a country to be debt free! Then they assassinated him and nowadays all the old folks would like to go back to when he was the “ruler” because everyone had a job placement after school! Everyone had a place in the community… anyway, the point I am trying to make is that there was a place and time for gratification and we only ate everything that there was in season. There was no imported corn ready for the first camping weekend or greenhouse tomatoes in December… and I think we all got programmed like that, to wait! and it will taste that much better! I try here too to keep to seasonal, but every now and then tomato and cucumber salad with feta cheese is all I want to have for dinner on a late November day! BUT cabbage rolls are only made at Christmas time, and ONLY with pickled cabbage 😉 I drool over cherries in March and April when they first start to show up on the shelves but I will not be caught buying them at $6/lb when I can wait for them to be in season and pick them up from $1.99/lb or cheaper!! They taste that much better when I get them for $2 hhahahaha

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    • I’m so sorry I never responded to this!!! The stomach flu has been circulating in our family and I’ve either been cleaning up puke or I’ve been the one puking! My blog got a bit lost in the shuffle. 🙂 Anyway, I had a feeling you’d ‘get’ the whole seasonal eating thing, given that you live on a farm! And, as always, I love your comments! I hadn’t even thought to include something about the dramatically lower price of things in season. That’s yet another benefit! 🙂 Strawberries are also in season over here and I love seeing displays in the grocery stores for strawberry shortcake. Maybe I’ll surprise my husband with that, tonight, but I’d have to learn how to make it first. (I’m not a very good cook.) Cherries are the absolute best!!! I noticed them for the first time the other day!!! It’s funny–in my post I was just going to write about asparagus festivals, and the whole thing about delayed gratification came without planning. But now I see that was the real point of the whole thing and I appreciate it deep down even more than I realized (until I started writing!) 🙂

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      • you’re so sweet! (and puky 😛 hopefully not anymore) no need for apologies!! I still didn’t get around to reading your next post! I’ve been zig-zagging through web space and my work at the office.

        Your posts always have such a nice flow, no matter how many side stories to “cram” into them. Even though I didn’t read yet the next post I know it will be a cool one as I love all your “the German word for “this” is “that” and you just RUN with the idea!! I might copy that from you 😉

        wish you a quick recovery!!

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      • I’m still getting caught up with my blog reading and comments–ugh! This was the sick week from hell. 🙂 Anyway, thanks for what you said about my pots! I definitely have lots of side stories–that made me laugh. I didn’t realize how many side stories I have until reading that, and I guess that truly is my style? It’s just that I start out in one direction and think of a million things to include along the way, haha! 🙂 Okay, I’m off to read your latest blog!

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  6. Loved it!! We both did – enroute to Belecke now. Especially the final paragraph. U can take the girl out of America but u can’t take the American out of the girl!!!

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    • So sorry I never replied to you!!! I’ve been so behind in my blogging this week. Anyway, thanks for reading it. I love you guys! And yes, you can take the girl out of America but I’m getting my KFC and McDonalds and unseasonal blackberries as soon as I want them!!! :-)))

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  7. I seriously love the way you write, Sarita. SO MUCH. I am always slow to respond, but it’s a treat whenever I come around 🙂

    asparagus in pancakes<THIS IS A THING?!

    Also, I always loved the word spargel, but perhaps more so, the way my mother (and I imagine, most Germans speaking English) pronounced the word — aspah-RAH-gus (totally putting the "emphasis on the wrong syllable." Also I'm trying to spell out the way Mike Meyers says that in that airplane movie but it's all lost in translation now. Sorry).

    I am a big fan of instant gratification. I blame my area of the country, but really, ain't nobody got time to wait 10 months for spargel. LOL. That's probably why I spent nearly $6 on it earlier today at Whole Foods. I guess it's not in season here now? Or it probably IS but that's what happens when I go grocery shopping at WF. Bastahds.

    XOXO

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your comments, Chars!! I feel like we’re getting to keep up with each other through our blogs, and that’s awesome. 🙂 And, I enjoy YOUR writing so much, too!! Now that I’ve started a blog of my own, I ‘get’ how much comments mean to someone. I can’t believe that I’ve just silently read and enjoyed your blog for so long and haven’t left many comments. That will change! Anyway, I laughed when you described how your mom pronounces asparagus. I swear, you could start a second blog just telling stories about your parents. 🙂 They sound too, too cute. As for asparagus in pancakes, YES! There is a restaurant around the corner that has them and they’re actually more or less wrapped up in these thin pancakes with a decadent sauce AND melted cheese over them. Soo0000 amazing! I love how a vegetable is cooked in all these ways that takes any nutritional value out of it. But, oh my, it’s so delicious. I miss and love you, Charlotte!!!! XOXO

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      • Uhm. That sounds amazing (tries to justify booking a ticket to Germany to see Sarita/try asparagus pancakes).

        Totally. It’s like, “WHO’S IN HERE?!” when you write a post and feel like people are reading but not responding. It’s lovely to see you over there AND I love stopping in to your home, too. Also I have bookmarked your infertility post, because I need to leave and send so many comments and then also get to that email that I swear is coming one of these days 🙂 LOVE YOU, SARITA!! XOXO

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      • You’re so cute. I’m definitely anxious to hear your thoughts/own story regarding that post. I seriously think about you all the time because I’ve been in that general boat before an it’s NOT fun. Also, I think you totally need to book a flight here (with your man of course) and stay with us!!!! We would LOVE to have you. And, our garage was just refinished into this whole new area so you’d have your own bedroom and bathroom and the whole nine yards. Think about it?!? :-)))) And yes, I hear you about the ‘WHO’s in here?’ I can see by my WordPress stats that people are reading (not an insane amount, but enough.) And I often have no clue who those people are. It drives me nuts. XOXO

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  8. Thank you, Sarah 🙂 That is DEFINITELY an offer I’d love to take you up on. I miss Germany so much. I had pangs while we were in Holland–GERMANY IS SO CLOSE! lol, I will make it there soon and would love love love to see/stay with you (so sweet).

    Ooof. yea, totally 🙂 more than I want to admit here, but it sucks big donkey balls. More soon 🙂 XOXO

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  9. Great post. Hilarious (and great point about delayed gratification). I used to live in Stuttgart and love spargel soup and am familiar with all the drinking songs. Which song is the one where you make the bunny ears and say you’re playing Cowboys and Indians tonight?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah! Thank you so much!! Stuttgart seems like an awesome town, too. Did you like it? My husband may put in for a job transfer next year and one of the options is Stuttgart. 🙂 And, as for the song–I know exactly which one you’re talking about (totally forgot about it!) But, I’m looking it up right now. Thanks for the comment!

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  10. I love asparagus on toast. Haven’t had it in years, so I think I have delayed gratification down pat.

    When I was in high school, we lived in Tigard, OR, and nearby there were Strawberry Fields forever. You could pick your own baskets of Marshall strawberries. The field had electrical lines running through it, and I think it kept the bugs out. They were the most delicious strawberries I’ve ever had.

    Near our house was also a grove of cherry trees, with Queen Annes and Bing cherries. They’ve long since been cut down, but I used to sit on my horse and pick and eat cherries off the trees until I had durchfall. It was wonderful.

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    • Nice use of the word durchfall in there! :-))) I’m so jealous that you had a horse…I love horseback riding sooooo much. That scene you described sounded so idyllic (electrical fence aside.) Berry picking is great! I’m going to need to take my daughter at some point. She is obsessed with berries to the point that we have to hide them from her line of vision or she’ll go ballistic trying to get to them. 🙂

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      • Well, they’re brightly colored, and round, and juicy! Of course she likes them!

        It was idyllic and is probably all gone by now. I’m going up there for my 45th HS reunion. Can’t wait to see it all.

        I have to look at my HS yearbook to remember anyone, and even then…. 45 years.

        I kept thinking of the image of an Olde English manor named Durchfall and a new governess arriving at night.

        It made me want to write a spoof Gothic romance.

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