The asparagus season is in full swing. 14 of the 15 crowns planted in my newly prepared asparagus bed have started to appear, sending up very fine spears that then become frothy graceful ferns. They must be left alone for the time being to build up energy and form good sound crowns for the years ahead and I must be patient. I’m hoping the 15th crown is OK and wonder if I could have planted it upside down, and if I did, will it find its way right way up in time?
The other day I came across some bargain priced asparagus at the supermarket that had reached its sell by date, so was going cheap, half price in fact. Recognising a bargain when I see one, I bought up the lot so I could do some pickling. Since the Canjam last year, when other canners participating produced pickled asparagus, I’ve been wanting to experience this preserve first hand, but with this prized vegetable never exactly in abundant supply and always required for immediate scoffing, I couldn’t envisage when the opportunity to pickle some would arise. So watch what you wish for, here was my golden opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands.
I am now the proud owner of 5 x 500ml (1 pint) jars of pickled asparagus. I canned 3 to start with then had the idea to add the last of some wild garlic flowers, picked that day, so canned a couple more jars. I have no intention of sampling these pickles until the memory of the fresh English stuff is a distant memory, as this is not intended as a replacement for what is available in season right this minute. Some pickled spears, served with hard-boiled eggs, a handful of salad leaves and a wedge of homemade bread and butter will be a simple lunch to look forward too in 6 months time.
Fitting the spears into the jars is a wasteful business as they do need to be trimmed especially short to fit. I made asparagus soup with the stem cut-offs, so none went to waste, but shorter dumpier spears to start with makes the task less painful. There is no way I would have wanted to do this if I’d paid top wack for my ingredients.
I used 2 x 200g bundles of fresh asparagus spears to fill each 500ml (1 pint) jar, but it will depend how long the stems are and how much stem you’ll need to chop off so they fit into the jars. Allow a few more spears so they can be packed tightly into the jars and cut them so they fit snuggly and sit below the level of vinegar headspace when packed upright in the jars.
For each 500ml (1 pint) jar allow:
400g (1/2 lb) asparagus spears
120ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
120ml (1/2 cup) water
1 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp sea salt
1 small shallot, finely sliced
1/2 clove garlic, sliced
6 fresh wild garlic flowers (optional)
*Prepare the canning bath and keep your empty jars submerged in there until they are needed. Prepare lids in another pan of simmering water. Blanch the asparagus spears fleetingly in boiling water for 60 seconds, then drain them and cool immediately with cold water, so they don’t cook any further. Mix the vinegar and water in a pan and bring to a simmer.
Place the salt and spices in each jar, then pack the asparagus spears upright (or you can do them pointing down if you like!) in the jars, adding the shreds of shallot and garlic, and the wild garlic flowerheads in amongst them as you go. Pour in the vinegar/water to cover the asparagus, leaving the headroom necessary for your type of jar. De-bubble, to release any trapped air pockets surrounding the spears, using a chop stick or thin spatula. Wipe the jar rims clean and seal. Process for 10 minutes, then remove from the canner and leave until cold before testing the seals.
*Once canned like this your pickled asparagus will keep for a year or even longer. Pickling can be done successfully without hot water processing so long as the acidity of the vinegar / water used is high enough. Canning removes the guesswork!