In Germany, Seasonal Eating As Way Of Life — And Excuse To Celebrate : The Salt Many fruit and vegetables just aren't available year-round in German grocery stores. So when favorites like asparagus are in season, Germans fill their baskets ... and throw some parties.

In Germany, Seasonal Eating As Way Of Life — And Excuse To Celebrate

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we're going to hear about an old-style seasonal approach to food. American supermarkets carry a wide assortment of fresh produce all year round. In Germany, though, many types of fruit and vegetables are only available in season, so when they do arrive, it's cause for celebration. Esme Nicholson reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCANNING)

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: You know it's springtime in Germany when eager shoppers ransack the produce aisle at the local supermarket. In April, it's the rhubarb, in May, it's the peaches and in June, it's the cherries. These fruits only put in a brief appearance while they are in season. The rest of the year, you have to rely on their canned or frozen equivalent. Buying local produce - which is de facto seasonal - or eating farm-to-table is as big a trend in Germany as it is in the United States. Farmers' markets, like this one here in Berlin, are popular and right now they're bound with produce. Sixty-two-year-old retired schoolteacher Dorothea Berint has just bought a basket of strawberries, one of the few summer fruits sometimes available out of season.

DOROTHEA BERINT: (Speaking German).

NICHOLSON: She says "It's not natural to expect strawberries in December. And if you can get them at all, they're grown in hot houses or they've come from halfway across the globe." Her attitude is the typical. In Germany, seasonal shopping is not just an organic ethical endeavor favored by urbane foodies; the supermarkets simply don't stock everything all year round.

DENISE KLUG: German shoppers don't understand the concept of the very huge hypermarket offering everything at the same time.

NICHOLSON: Denise Klug is a retail analyst in Frankfurt. She says this is not just a legacy of the East, where lines would form for rare items such as oranges. Consumers in the former West also have moderate expectations because discount food stores dominate the market, and they guarantee their low prices by offering limited stock.

KLUG: The discounters have been around for 60 years now. They have educated shoppers that they don't need all this choice.

NICHOLSON: But anticipation for seasonal vegetables proved to be successful marketing, especially when cabbage and potatoes dominate supermarket shelves over the winter. Whether it's plums, nectarines, blackberries or chanterelle mushrooms, shoppers stockpile and restaurants lay on special menus before the goods disappear for another year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASPARAGUS FESTIVAL)

NICHOLSON: And because some of vegetables are more equal than others, certain seasons prompt consumer worse. One of these is Spargelzeit, asparagus season, for which there is an entire epicurean liturgy. The pinnacle is the crowning of the Asparagus Queen at the Asparagus of Festival in the town of Beelitz. This year's asparagus royalty is 26-year-old masters student Dana Beiler. She's hoping the honor will give her public speaking experience and look good on her resume.

DANA BEILER: I sent my application to the Asparagus Association. And then we had a interview with the farmers, and I have to answer some asparagus questions.

NICHOLSON: What kind of asparagus questions?

BEILER: Maybe how many asparagus we have every year, or what is a big challenge for asparagus?

NICHOLSON: For festival-goer Andre Stein, celebrating this king of vegetables is no challenge at all.

ANDRE STEIN: It's very known for drinking beer before asparagus, so that's a rule. You have to start with a beer, and then you have the asparagus later.

NICHOLSON: While Germans delight in as much asparagus as possible over a period of eight weeks, barley is one crop that they are happy to consume in its preserved liquid form all year round. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Beelitz.

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