White asparagus is ubiquitous in Germany during springtime. The season of Spargelzeit, (literally, “asparagus time”) begins in April and traditionally lasts until June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist.
To obtain the white, tender and somewhat sweet version of asparagus, farmers limit the plant’s light intake, burying it like a treasure under mounds of soil. So, if you stand in a field of white asparagus before and during harvest time, you see nothing green — only row after row of mounded soil. The mounds cover the shoots and block their sunlight intake. Chlorophyll production is prevented, and the white tips barely peek up out of the soil when they are harvested. Each delectable spear is loaded with calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, B1, B2, C, E and folic acid.
Unlike its green-skinned counterpart, spargelzeit or white asparagus has a tough, bitter outer layer that must be removed before cooking. The following is the classic way of preparing the treasured vegetable in Germany (though simple steaming is also popular).
16 cups water
2 tbsp. salt
4 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp. butter
1-2 lb. fresh white asparagus
Bring water, salt, lemon juice, and butter to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat.
Meanwhile, trim about 1⁄2” from the ends of white asparagus. Lay spears on a work surface, then peel thin skin from each with a sharp swivel-blade vegetable peeler, starting 1 1⁄2” from the top and running the length of the spear. (Spears are brittle and can snap when peeled in midair.)
Gather spears into 2-4 bundles, tie loosely with kitchen string, and lower into simmering water. Cook, increasing heat to medium-high to maintain a simmer if necessary, until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 8-30 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. Lift bundles from simmering water with kitchen tongs and drain on paper towels.