It only takes a few weeks from now before the asparagus season is in full swing again. The north part of the province of Limburg is the perfect place for when you want to immerse yourself in the world of asparagus, which is also called ‘white gold’ in the Netherlands. In this blog 3 places you need to visit if you are an asparagus fan!
Author: Helena Smit
Dutch dietitian & foodie living in Rotterdam with a personal mission to put Dutch food on the international map.
A food trip dedicated to the asparagus is not complete without a visit to Grubbenvorst. This village is known as the asparagus village of the Netherlands. The lands in Grubbenvorst and the surrounding area were once almost all asparagus fields. Many families also grew asparagus for their own use in their backyards. Today, asparagus cultivation has almost vanished. This is mainly due to the depletion of the soil. It is no longer suitable for growing asparagus.
After planting in the soil, an asparagus plant gives a full harvest approximately after 3 years. This continues until the plant is around 10 years old. The plants are then harvested and the land will no longer be suitable for growing asparagus in the next 10 to 20 years. The soil has become too acidic due to the asparagus cultivation. Asparagus plants do not like acidic soil. However, other crops can be grown. Such as blueberries. They do well on a somewhat acidic soil. Quite a lot of blueberries are now being grown in the Grubbenvorst area.
Still, in Grubbenvorst there is a lot which reminds us of the time when asparagus were cultivated here. For example, the village has a real ‘Asparagus path’. Who follows this path, walks through the wide environment along nature and lots of agriculture, including a number of asparagus fields.
When you follow the Asparagus path you will end up in the centre of Grubbenvorst. The centre is very authentic and has a number of nice eateries.
Ice cream vendor Clevers deserves a special mention. During the asparagus festival in the village, you can eat asparagus ice cream in this shop. World famous in Grubbenvorst and surroundings. The asparagus festival is celebrated in several villages in the north of Limburg.
IJssalon Clevers, Lottumseweg 1, 5971 BT Grubbenvorst
Martens is one of the largest asparagus growers in the Netherlands. Once started with 4 hectares, the company now has 80 hectares on which asparagus is grown. The asparagus fields are mainly in the Netherlands and to a small extent in Germany. At the Martens company you can get a tour where you get more information about the history of the company and the cultivation and harvest of asparagus, then and now.
Asparagus cultivation has grown in North Limburg because of the sandy soil. The ideal soil for growing asparagus. Large Catholic families in the region used to ensure that there were enough employees available to stab the asparagus. The housewives and children in particular were used for this. It was/is hard work.
The mushroom cultivation, which was also done a lot in this region, was much less strenuous physical work. The local workers on the asparagus fields eventually opted for a career in mushroom cultivation. This even led to a crisis at that time because many asparagus companies did not have enough staff to put the asparagus on, so a large part of the asparagus harvest was lost.
Because the couldn’t find enough local workers to harvest the asparagus, seasonal workers arrived, mainly from Poland. They have their temporary accommodation in nearby campsites as long as the asparagus season lasts. Martens now has 380 seasonal workers.
Development of the cultivation of asparagus
Over the years, the Martens company has become a true asparagus specialist. The asparagus seeds have been bred (the total duration of a breeding process is around 25 years) and the cultivation of the asparagus has improved over time, resulting in more harvest. The asparagus plant has a male and female crop variant. Eventually it has been found that the male plant generally give 40% more harvest than the female crop. Nowadays, only male crops are used.
There are different ways to extend the season and thus get more harvest. By covering the hills (the asparagus bed) with a special blanket, the temperature of the ground can be influenced. The blanket has two sides, a white side and a black side. When the temperatures are cool, the blanket is laid with the black side up. The sunlight is better absorbed and the heat stays in the soil longer. On a warm day, the white side is up. The white reflects the sunlight, keeping the soil cool.
In addition to the asparagus from the open ground, there are now also asparagus from greenhouses. This is why fresh asparagus can be eaten almost all year round nowadays.
The asparagus season continues for a few weeks. In this time the asparagus is allowed to harvest during this period. Saint Jan Day (a Dutch holiday) on June 23rd is de last day of the harvest. Or sometimes earlier when the quota of asparagus per land has been reached. Each asparagus plant has around 300-400 storage roots and 3-4 kilometers of hair roots. The roots must not be broken when harvesting the asparagus, because then the plant may die. That’s why harvesting asparagus is more difficult than it seems.
Shopping and dining
At the shop of Martens Asperges you can buy fresh asparagus and all kinds of asparagus-related products, like asparagus oil and asparagus liqueur.
How do you know if the asparagus you buy are really fresh? Gently rub the stems together. Do they make a squeaky sound? Then they are certainly fresh.
And are white asparagus better then asparagus which are slightly blue/purple? No. After harvesting, the asparagus should be stored in water and refrigerated for 6-8 hours in order not to discolour to blue. The discoloration would indicate a poorer quality (less fresh), but that is a fable. It is purely aesthetic. Blue asparagus are sold for less money than the white ones because they are less popular, but there’s nothing wrong with the taste.
There is also a restaurant at Martens, where you can order various dishes prepared with asparagus. Order a creamy asparagus soup or eat a asparagus croquette. These croquettes can also be purchased at the store to prepare at home.
Martens Asperges BV, Mackayweg 2, 5865 AL Tienray
Museum De Locht
Those who are interested in the history of asparagus cultivation should definitely visit Museum De Locht. The museum is fully run by volunteers. You can look around yourself, but you can also get a tour of one of the volunteers.
It is an interactive museum that is interesting for adults and fun for children. During asparagus season children can harvest asparagus on their own.
Museum De Locht, Broekhuizerdijk 16D, 5962 NM Melderslo
This blog is a collaboration with Liefde voor Limburg.