Two weekends ago, Germany celebrated Pfingsten, the feast of Ascension. The British name for it is Pentecost or Whitsun. It is a time the freshly blooming fields, the greening woods, hills, mountains, the flowering bushes and hedges are celebrated. The enchanting cuckoo and all other songbirds have returned. My thoughts tend to go to Germany in this verdant season. I arrived there with Mutti, my German mother on June 17, many decades ago. We left the boat that brought us across the Atlantic in Rotterdam, where I instantly fell in love with the welcoming colors of the fresh new season. We leisurely drove south to Mutti’s beloved Pfalz where family, extended family and friends awaited us. It was a trip that involved all the senses, bringing deepest feelings of contentment and further cementing my cultural seduction.
A friend asked me recently if I remember eating Spargel, that uniquely German Spring deliciousness. How can I forget how Mutti introduced me to white asparagus? She had told me about the Königsgemüse a “royal vegetable,” that, as she had been informed, originated in the broader area where she had grown up, and that until the 19th century had only been grown exclusively for the royal court of Baden-Würtenberg.
On a Sunday we drove over to Schwetzingen and, after exploring the castle with its impressive gardens, settled down to dine on Spargel in the ground’s outdoor restaurant.
I remember the dish looking as the one you see in the picture: delicate white asparagus wrapped in equally delicate smoked black forest ham. Ours came with young spring fingerling potatoes and was served with clarified butter, a dusting of salt and pepper, and a half bottle of crisp local white wine. The delicacy lies in the typically a simple preparation that allows the natural flavor of the vegetable to dominate. Back then, a popular way of serving the asparagus might have included topping it with a creamy hollandaise sauce. Years later, in Milan, Fred and I enjoyed Italian asparagi with a dusting of grated white truffles and parmesan cheese. However you look at it, the vegetable was, and still is, a delectable delicacy.
Coincidentally, last weekend was also a long one in the US: Memorial Day. It unofficially defines the start of summer, when everyone’s gardens are expected to have been cleaned and planted. But mostly, it heralds the season of grilling and barbecue parties. Officially, however, Memorial Day honors the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in American wars. It is, of course, a very different approach to welcoming warmer temperatures.
As an American with a German heart, I’m combining both festivities by watering my budding white floribunda rose bushes and dining on green asparagus with young potatoes and the shaved German smoked ham I bought at a local European deli.