Every evening I browse through the 1906 Berlin Cook Book looking for the recipe I want to prepare that night and several times the past few weeks recipes for asparagus catch my eye. I have been craving asparagus but all that was available in my grocery store was imported asparagus. Finally today at the Kitchener Market I was able to buy some fresh local asparagus. Today’s recipe is Asparagus on Toast from Mrs. H. C. Diebel.
I don’t like soggy bread so I decided to make half the recipe and use just half a bunch of asparagus. I washed the stalks and cut them the recommended length. I didn’t use the end pieces as they were a little tough. I boiled some water and but the thicker end pieces in first and then added the tips. I let it simmer away until all the sections were soft. I drained the asparagus pieces and put them back in the pot along with 1/2 cup of 2% milk, 1/2 a tablespoon of butter, a little pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. I was surprised that sugar was needed. I know some people like to add sugar to tomatoes but I’d never heard of adding it to asparagus. While the milk mixture heated, I toasted two pieces of bread, buttered them. I put the toast in a soup dish and then poured the asparagus and milk mixture on top.
Mrs. H. C. Diebel is likely Lydia Caroline Moebus who married Henry Conrad Diebel in 1894 according to the Waterloo Generations website. In the 1901 census the couple have two children Harry L. age 3 and Mary F. age 2. I’m not entirely sure what happens during the next ten years as the 1911 census lists two children Harry 14 and Florence 12. I thought perhaps Mary’s middle name was Florence and she had started using that instead. Her birth month is the same as Mary. However, the Waterloo Generations website lists three children Florence Joyce, Harry L and Mary F. What is clear is that Mr. Henry Diebel works as a painter and the family are of German heritage and are members of the Lutheran church. In 1911 the Diebel family lives at 47 Scott street.
Asparagus on Toast isn’t the most appetizing looking dish unless you are a fan of historic cooking. Many foods during this period were covered in cream sauce and plated. This doesn’t even have the appeal of a cream sauce and included my dreaded soggy bread. And yet, it is very tasty!! I was incredibly surprised that I liked asparagus on toast. Of course, I was looking forward to the asparagus part but the “sauce” and the toast part were good too. Asparagus on Toast will never make it to a fine dining table in its current form although it could be worth some experimentation. I also don’t think you’ll convert asparagus hating family members with this recipe but it is a different way to serve it when you have an abundance of asparagus.
A quick internet search reveals that sugar is added to reduce the bitterness of asparagus. The only site I found with any reference to this was one on German food! http://www.germanfoodguide.com/spargel.cfm I’ll try adding a little sugar the next time I eat asparagus.
ASPARAGUS ON TOAST
Wash and cut the tender stalks into pieces two inches long, put into just enough boiling salt water to cover, when tender, add a cupful of new milk or cream, a tablespoonful of butter or less if cream is used instead of milk, a teaspoonful of sugar, a pinch of pepper, let boil up once, have slices of buttered toast in a deep dish, pour the asparagus over it and serve at once.