It may be the result of a late spring or that many local farmers are now growing it, but for the first time there’s enough asparagus around to consider putting some of it up. After considering our options (see Resources: Preserving Asparagus below), we decided on quick pickling them, an easy process that can be made up in one-jar batches and keeps much of the fresh crunch of whatever is being pickled. Ball’s 1½-pint jars — a new favorite size — are perfect for packing tall spears of asparagus, and will hold about a pound per jar. As a starting point, we used the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s infinitely variable Refrigerator Spring Pickles, which is more of a template than recipe, and were inspired by the choice of pickling seasonings at A Veggie Venture‘s (via Food in Jars). The following recipe will make up one of these jars, and, if you should be so lucky as to have that much asparagus, may be scaled up for larger batches.
Quick Pickled Asparagus
Makes one 1½-pint jar
1 pound asparagus spears
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 small dried chile pepper
1 cup white or cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon canning/pickling salt
1 tablespoon sugar
– Wash the asparagus, snap off the woody ends, and trim spears to fit in jar, leaving at least a half-inch of headspace. Pack prepared asparagus spears snugly into a clean 1½-pint jar or similar sized heatproof lidded container. Add the peppercorns, mustard seeds, garlic and chile pepper to the jar of packed asparagus.
– To make the brine, mix the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a small pot. Bring to a boil and let boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Carefully fill the jar with brine to within a half-inch of the rim. Place the lid on the jar and refrigerate. Allow the flavor to develop for 1 to 2 days before serving. Use within 2 weeks.
Local Ingredients: Cider vinegar from Ricker Hill Orchards; asparagus and garlic from the garden.
Resources: Preserving Asparagus
• Canning — Whether in pieces or as spears, hot or raw-packed, you’ll need a pressure canner to process this low-acid vegetable: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/asparagus_spears.html
• Pickling — The addition of vinegar to fresh-packed asparagus allows it to be processed using a boiling water canner: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/pickled_asparagus.html
• Quick Pickling — Easy to make up by the single jar, asparagus are covered with a hot brine, and stored in the fridge; includes how to vary the seasonings: http://umaine.edu/food-health/food-preservation/lets-preserve-refrigerator-spring-pickles/
• Fermenting — Curing in a salt and water solution produces lactic acid, which acts as a preservative: http://www.girlichef.com/2010/06/lacto-fermented-asparagus.html
• Freezing — Blanching inactivates the enzymes, and helps to preserve color, flavor, and nutrients: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/asparagus.html
• Drying — Same as for freezing, pretreat by blanching before drying: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry/csu_dry_vegetables.pdf