All over Germany in the merry months of May and June a strange compulsion grips the nation: Spargel mania! It's asparagus season and the Germans just can't get enough of it.

From Lübeck to Lindau, a perfect asparagus spear is white and about 3/4" in diameter, the direct opposite of the pencil-thin, green stuff we revere here in the U.S. The classic presentation is a full pound of asparagus served as a main course with hollandaise and boiled new potatoes. Sometimes for variety, it comes with butter or savory herb pancakes.

But the delicacy can appear just about anywhere on the menu, with the possible exception of dessert. Spargel soups abound, usually cream-style, often with crab. One restaurant we saw offered lobster salad with mushrooms and asparagus, another dished it up with mussels and saffron rice. And, of course, a hearty portion can accompany any kind of meat.

Home-grown Spargel is obviously the best. There are 2,000 growers in Bavaria alone. Not surprisingly, competition comes from abroad but since the Germans prefer to prepare and eat Spargel the same day it is harvested, offerings from Greece and Turkey start out at a significant disadvantage. Many farmers sell directly from their homes to consumers, others bring the produce to market where long lines form instantly.

The cost for this seasonal treat? Recently we noted Spargel as an al a carte menu selection at from $13-$20. In markets the price for the fresh, uncooked stuff runs about $10 a pound.