White Asparagus and Springtime

I’ve been recently reminded that it will soon be white asparagus season in Europe. Living again in Los Angeles, I truly miss not only the changing seasons, but the various foods and flowers and activities that accompany the seasons. White asparagus was something that I truly looked forward to each year. Not only did it mean that springtime was fully upon us after the cold and dreary winter, but it is uniquely delicious. With the first, very expensive, arrivals in the markets I would buy a bunch and have a dinner party with a first course of the steamed stalks doused in clarified butter. Soon the asparagus would be everywhere, on restaurant menus and in all the markets, growing cheaper as it became more abundant. It’s extraordinarily popular in the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’d eat it often, because I knew that, as spring dissolved into summer, the white asparagus would one day disappear. It would vanish completely, as suddenly as it arrived.

I can get white asparagus in Los Angeles, sporadically, all year round. It’s flown in from around the world, from hot houses and South America. The northern European asparagus is grown locally, and there’s a difference, not only in preparation, but in the stalk itself, between the Dutch, the German, and the French sorts.

It’s hard to get excited about our imported white asparagus, partly because it doesn’t taste the same, and partly, yes, because of it’s ubiquity. Like the tulips, which would arrive in Amsterdam even before the asparagus, often when it was still quite wintry, the seasonality was central. For several months, I could buy 50 tulips, enough to fill the apartment, for a pittance. Every week would bring different varieties and colors to the flower market on the Singel. And then one day they’d be gone, replaced by other flowers. I still think of them when I see the expensive bunches of eight or ten here, already tired from their long flight across the ocean and continent. And I long for bunches of tulips and for asparagus season. —Clay