A couple weeks ago I had a conversation about asparagus with my aunt and uncle, we talked about the various tastes depending on the vegetable’s origin. The soil, the climate and weather have such a big influence on these delicate stems. I’ve enjoyed great asparagus in my life, green and white, but we agreed that the best is from Beelitz, an area 50 km (30 miles) outside Berlin. I always wanted to visit to see the large fields covered in foil keeping them dark, to watch the harvest and buy my asparagus directly from one of the farmers.
It’s May, the seasonal peak for asparagus and there’s no time to wait any longer! A few days ago we got on a train heading South-West to search for the famous Beelitz asparagus fields. We took our bikes with us to explore some of the quiet and hidden corners of the countryside, the forest and the fields and I can say that we found what we were looking for, asparagus heaven!
We got off the train at a tiny station, an old timber framed house which seemed abandoned for years. We noticed that we were the only travelers on the platform, we were happy about that and enjoyed the silence. When you live in the city the absence of noise is one of the biggest luxuries! The early afternoon sun felt just right, soft and warm, we jumped on our bikes, excited to start our trip.
Beelitz is a small town, it’s peaceful and pretty. Old brick houses line the narrow cobblestone streets, little trees along the pavements blossoming in bright pink, a perfect picture book scene. It didn’t take us long to leave the town behind us. The world in front of us turned into a glowing green, majestic trees with fleshy leaves, lilacs blooming at every corner spreading their sweet scent. The grass on the wide meadows looked fresh and juicy. We crossed a river and filled our lungs with the cleanest air we smelled in months! We turned into a tiny path and met an old man gathering grass for his rabbits. We chatted for a little while before we continued our drive along endless fields, on hidden alleys and through lonesome forest.
After driving through a dark forest of pine and fir trees for about half an hour we noticed a sparkle in the distance. At that point we weren’t even thinking about asparagus anymore, we just enjoyed the peace and quiet, but there it was, right in front of us in the middle of hundreds of trees, an endless field of asparagus!
To keep the vegetables in the dark, they are covered with white foil which reflects the sun and creates a surreal, glittering scene, it felt like being on the moon! In the evening, on our way back to the train station we saw the pickers coming to harvest, creating dark shadows in front of a blinding white in the spotlight of the sinking sun. It was beautiful!
Behind the fields we spotted a farmer who offered thick and juicy white asparagus, the freshest I’ve ever bought. I filled my basket with the clean white stems knowing that I would turn a few of them into a delicious asparagus soup!
For 4 people you need
white asparagus, peeled, the bottoms cut off, 1kg / 2 pounds
a pinch of sugar
water used to cook the asparagus 900ml / 2 pints
heavy cream 100ml / 3.5 ounces
nutmeg, freshly ground
salt and black pepper
tarragon, around 30 leaves for the topping
In a large pot, bring lots of water to a boil, add a pinch of sugar and salt and cook the asparagus for 20 minutes. Keep the water, take the asparagus out with a slotted ladle and cut into 3cm / 1″ pieces. Set the heads aside and leave for the topping.
Bring 900ml / 2 pints of the water used to cook the asparagus to a boil and cook together with the cream on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and purée with a stick mixer or in a blender. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste and serve in deep bowls sprinkled with the asparagus’ heads and tarragon leaves.