Dear Brits in Germany, relax, take a deep breath, you’ll live! Those of you who’ve lately noticed a certain physiological phenomenon to do with body fluid evacuation and were about to consult their doctor for fear of a rare, deadly disease, let me tell you a story about a fellow hypochondriac. One day in May, several years ago, my English husband approached me, doom-faced, and mentioned, in confidence, that his urine smelled funny. He was sure he wasn’t going to last much longer on this earth. I laughed. Wicked wife that I am. Here’s why …
Most Germans grow up knowing this because we just love asparagus. In case this is news to you, just open your peepers and note the separate Spargel section on each restaurant menu between mid-April and late June (yes, that’s Spargelsaison aka Smelly Pee Season), some establishments even have a separate menu containing a varied selection of asparagus.
So, in this country, asparagus, when in season, is the queen – and not just a lackey – of vegetables. And when I say asparagus, I mean white asparagus. We will eat green, but it’s not very common. I don’t know why we go bonkers about it – it may have something to do with seasonality, i.e. scarcity – but we absolutely love it.
And every region has its prime cultivation area. When I lived in Berlin, Beelitzer Spargel was the toast of the town. In Cologne, my impression is that the trend is more towards specific farms such as Beller Spargel. Buying straight from the supplier is the dernier cri in the middle class Gen X community, of course.
The classic recipe is boiled asparagus with potatoes, cooked or raw ham, hollandaise sauce or melted butter and chives. But there are also wonderful variations in the form of salad or risotto. For an easy meal, I recommend buying peeled asparagus (you can take the peel home too if you’re keen on using every part of the plant, and make soup from it), wrapping 4 to 6 spears in aluminium foil with some butter, salt and chives (making an air-tight package with some air inside it) and baking it in the oven (around 190 °C) for just under 30 minutes. This preserves the juicy flavours best. You can replace the potatoes with savoury pancakes (a variety from the Baden region a friend once revealed). The hollandaise sauce you can buy in a pack is just fine (Lukull is my preferred brand). So now you’re ready to take on your truly German culinary adventure.
Unfortunately, there is a small downside. As hinted above, asparagus, white or green, makes your pee smell. Not everyone’s. Some asparagus consumers are more equal than others. And some are even lucky enough to lack the gene to smell the putrid stench. But the phenomenon is known as (I love this German term) Uringeruch nach Spargelgenuss, which my giddy linguist friend Sus finds heart-warming pleasure in converting to Uringenuss nach Spargelgeruch.
The smell wears off if you drink lots, though. So here’s a simple recipe for Maibowle, a refreshing, lovely, equally seasonal punch. It requires some preparation and, yes, the woodruff (Waldmeister) is imperative (you can buy that on farmer’s markets or pick it yourself, but make sure it’s not blossoming yet; and it freezes well) – but the result is rewarding. Enjoy!
And next time, let’s take a stroll down Fleet Street …
The Pommes Buddha says: Only smelly pee is good pee.