Preserve your asparagus harvest
Preserving foraged food is always a challenge. Especially if you are unwilling to compromise. We want our preserved food to be as good, or better, than the fresh version. Its the middle of asparagus season in Colorado; let’s talk about one of our favorite ways to preserve the harvest – pickling. We have been hard at work on our pickling recipe this spring. Here are some good guidelines for pickling asparagus.
Refrigerator Pickles vs Canned Pickles: If you want to make refrigerator pickles, just pour boiling pickling liquid (see recipe below) on the asparagus, cap, let sit a few hours at room temperature and put in your fridge. You’ll enjoy delicious pickled vegetables that last about 2 weeks. Canned asparagus will last much longer – at least 12 months. We don’t have a proper pressure canner, so we use a bath of boiling water to can our jars. Boiling for exactly 15 minutes will get the job done.
There are three guidelines:
- Pour boiling hot pickling liquid into jars, cap and immediately put into boiling water
- Boil 15 minutes. Good strong boil.
- Make sure there is 1 inch of water over top of jars during boiling
- Get a “jar lifter”. Nothing else is suitable for lifting jars in and out of boiling water.
Keep the asparagus crunchy: Texture is important. To avoid “soggy” asparagus:
- Do not cook your asparagus.
- Pack uncooked asparagus into the jars. If you blanche prior to canning, the asparagus will be soggy when you open it in December!
- Pack the jars as tight as you can. If the jars are packed loosely, the asparagus spears tend to cook more during the canning process.
The Picking Liquid: This is the most difficult part! Getting your pickling liquid right is an art form – always a work in progress.
- Use a 50/50 vinegar/water split.
- 1 TB of salt per cup of liquid. Many canning recipes say to use canning salt… we just use kosher salt (which is less dense than table salt, so, less salty)
- 1 tsp of sugar per cup of liquid.
- After you mix up the vinegar, water, salt and sugar give it a taste alter it a bit to taste.
- We bring this to a boil and then simmer it for 10 minutes before pouring into our jars
Next round of pickling, we are going to try some ingredients recommended by a friend – celery salt and whole arboles peppers.
Add some yummy flavor: This is an area for experimentation. Currently we are trying some different types of peppers (whole dried peppers instead of pepper flakes) and also celery salt instead of dill. We put the following ingredients into the bottom of each quart sized jar. Feel free to use more or less based on the size of the jar or your desire for spice:
- 1/4 tsp of mustard seed
- 1 sprig of fresh dill
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- 10-ish peppercorns
- 1/2-1 tsp of pepper
Get the Jars right: Whatever you do get wide-mouthed canning jars – they are so much easier to work with! After harvest, we save only the best asparagus for canning. Older asparagus typically gets set aside for soup. Asparagus then get sorted by size so that the longest pieces go into quart jars and the rest go into pint jars. Pint jars are preferred – they offer a nice portion size for a meal. Each spear is cut down into the perfect size to fit into the jars. Carefully layer them into the jars, again – as tight as you can. Make sure spears are short enough to be covered in liquid and still leave enough headroom in the top of the jar for air (about an inch from the top of the jar). Don’t forget the middles – these are good too, mix them in… top spears are not necessary on every piece. End pieces can be utilized as well, usually we pack them into a small jam jar and pickle as bite-sized pieces. We can’t wait more than a few days before opening to see if we like the recipe, these are great “tasters”. The toughest end pieces are reserved for soup.
Here is what the process looks like:
- Fill a large stock pot with hot water, bring to a boil
- Cut down spears to the right sizes while the water is heating
- Put empty jars and lids into the stock pot, boil to sterilize
- Make the pickling liquid in a smaller pot, bring to a boil
- While the pickling liquid is simmering, pack the hot jars with seasoning and asparagus
- Pour all the pickling liquid into jars, tightly secure lids, and place in the boiling water for 15 minutes
- Set on the counter, let cool for a day and then store.
A few final tips:
Try some other vegetables while you are at it… but do them in their own jars, don’t mix and match. Our favorites are beets (we roast and peel and then cut into chunks), cauliflower (just pickle raw) and beans (blanch for a minute before pickling).
Avoid fancy vinegars. Plain old white vinegar works best. We have tried other vinegars and they add a lot of flavors and sweetness but they are not as good!