Morava Field (Marchfeld) – the plain between the Danube and the lowest section of the Morava River (March in German) – is known from history. Two important battles took place here. First, in 1260, the army of the Czech king Přemysl Ottokar II defeated the Hungarian king Bela IV. near Kressenbrunn (today Groissenbrunn). In 1278, this Czech king met the Roman king Rudolph I of Habsburg near the village of Dürnkrut. Přemysl fell in battle, the Czech army was defeated and the great adversary was removed from European politics. This battle marked the rise to power of the Habsburgs.
Fortunately, there are no more battles here today. As far as the eye can see, there are endless vegetable fields. Until the 19th century, Marchfeld was referred to as the “Austrian granary” as grain cultivation prevailed. Currently, this region is a supplier of quality vegetables for Vienna, mainly onions, peas, carrots and spinach, but also asparagus are grown here.
Asparagus had already been valued by the ancient Egyptians, who considered it the food of the gods. Even in Austria, asparagus is called “Kaisergemüse” (Emperor’s vegetable) and the inhabitants of Marchfeld regard it as their “white gold”. In 1996, the European Union recognized the term Marchfeld asparagus as a protected geographical indication.
The revival of asparagus cultivation in this area began in the 1970s. The conditions are excellent in Marchfeld: black sandy soil, mild Pannonian climate and almost 2,000 hours of sunshine a year. Thanks to this, two-thirds of the total Austrian production is grown here, in 2020 it was 2,730 tons.
Asparagus is a typical spring vegetable, its season is short – from April to June 24. During this period, green and white fleshy sprouts are sold in all supermarkets in Austria, and asparagus dominates restaurant menus. Marchfeld asparagus is characterized by a delicate asparagus aroma. Green and purple asparagus has a sharper taste. However, the most typical type is white asparagus, the “white gold” from Marchfeld. However, it remains white only when the sun’s rays do not touch it. Asparagus fields are therefore very easy to recognize. There are long strips of black foil stretched at two-meter intervals.
These recyclable foils protect the soil from drying out and from pests. The foils help to regulate the temperature so that the asparagus does not grow too quickly. At the same time, thermal energy is better stored in the soil thanks to the foils – therefore the season can start a few weeks earlier – in mid-March.
Asparagus is harvested by hand. The green is cut with a knife and the white with the help of a special knife with which the white shoot is taken out from the soil. A skilful picker collects 15-20 kg per day.
One of the most renowned asparagus growers in this region is the Sulzmann family farm in Mannsdorf. Its founder, Hannes Sulzmann, was the first to deal with this type of vegetable here. His success motivated other farmers. During our visit, we had the opportunity to see the premises where the asparagus is washed and then moved piece by piece on a belt to the machine where it is peeled.
We peel asparagus at home using a peeler. First, wash the asparagus under running water and dry it. For green asparagus, peel only the bottom third. For the white one, you should peel up to about 2 cm below the tip. You have to press more on the ends, therefore the asparagus should not be peeled in the hand, but placed on a board.
Cut off the lower woody ends (I liked them raw too), you can cook them later in the soup together with the skins. Tie 8-10 pieces of asparagus with kitchen thread. Let the salted water boil in a special asparagus pot with a strainer (or another tall pot), then put a bunch of upright asparagus into the boiling water, the tips may stick out of the water a little. You can add a bouillon cube, a little oil or butter. Some also add sugar, but delicate Marchfeld asparagus tastes good without sugar.
Depending on the thickness, white asparagus is cooked for 10-20 minutes, green for less – only 5‑10. Pierce the lower end with a fork, if it is soft, the asparagus is cooked.
Fresh asparagus – wrapped in a damp towel – can be kept in the refrigerator for several days. If you want to extend the asparagus season by several months, you can freeze it. Put it in boiling water while still frozen.
You can prepare a creamy asparagus soup; green asparagus can be grilled, white goes well with steak or is eaten as a main dish with warm hollandaise sauce or another (cold) egg and mayo sauce.
Boiled asparagus can be cut into salads.
Salty cakes are also excellent, for example, quiche with green asparagus: recipe
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri