I have been harvesting asparagus now for a little over a month. I have another week and then will need to let the plants grow to provide food for next year’s harvest. My favorite way to eat asparagus is to roast it with olive oil and garlic (just 10-15 minutes in a 400 degree oven), but I also like it pickled. It makes a great appetizer using softened cream cheese or goat cheese mixed with garlic and spread on any type of deli meat, then rolled around a pickled asparagus spear (pickled beans are good, too). Yum…I literally could (and have!) made a meal out of them.
Pickling vegetables is really easy, especially if you have an extra refrigerator to store them so you don’t need to do any canning. But even if you need to can them to keep them shelf stable, using a boiling water canner adds only a few extra minutes to the process.
Warning: there are a lot of pictures with this post, but bear with me- canning is an area where having step-by-step illustrations is extremely helpful. At least it would’ve been for me if there had been anything like the Internet or blogs when I was learning! I hope it’s helpful to you…
Begin with your jars. A canner load fits 7 jars and I use either regular pint jars and/or 12-oz quilted jars (I like the way the asparagus looks in the straight-sided 12-oz jars). Clean them well with soap and hot water. I use the old baby bottle brush from when my kids were little.
Now, the Ball Blue Book (great resource you should have if you want to can), has you put the jars into the canner to keep warm, but I find it too hard to get them in and out again quickly, so I just fill with the hottest tap water and leave in the sink. I refill if they get too cool. My friend always puts hers in a 200 degree oven upside down on a towel-lined tray. The point is to keep them warm until you need to fill them.
UNLESS you are not canning and just want to keep them in the fridge! Then just clean them.
Put one spear in a jar and cut it to 1/2″ below the jar top, then I use that as my measure for cutting the remainder of the asparagus. You can see in the picture that I like to make seven little piles to represent the seven jars. It just helps me visualize how many I need and when I’m close to having enough to fill the jars.
You will also need to peel seven cloves of garlic. I suppose you could get all your spears cleaned and cut first and then clean your jars…you just need to have these two steps completed before moving to the next steps.
Measure 5 cups water and 5 cups vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar because it’s a bit more mild, fancy places use white wine vinegar, but regular would work, too), 5 TB canning/pickling salt, and 4 TB. sugar into a large non-reactive pot. Stir well and bring to a slow boil.
Place the garlic clove (I like to cut it in half to release more flavor), a few peppercorns, and a few shakes of red pepper flakes in the bottom of one of the drained jars. These are optional, except for the garlic, with I don’t believe should ever be optional.
Start packing the spears in, points down (although apparently there is some debate about this- some like their spears pointing up!), squeezing in as many as you can without breaking them.
I really should have tried to fit a few more in, but I was in a hurry.
Keep filling the jars. I like to have them all filled, because the next steps need to be done quickly. I know it allows the jars to cool somewhat, but I’ve never had a problem when I fill them with the boiling liquid.
In the meantime (usually as I’m filling the first jar), heat some water in a kettle just to the boiling point and pour over the canning jar lids in a small pot. Let sit for at least 3 minutes.
UNLESS you are not canning, then just use clean lids.
When the vinegar mixture comes to a boil and lids are ready, pour the mixture into one jar at a time using a canning funnel. Fill to within 1/2″ from the top.
Use a non metal spatula (I love these flat plastic ones!) to go all around the jar to remove any air bubbles.
Make sure the liquid is still 1/2″ from top (called the headspace), adding more if necessary.
Wipe the rim of the jar with a damped cloth. This is an old t-shirt…remember that cottage mentality?
Place a lid on the jar. Here I’m using a fancy “lid lifter” which is just a magnet on the end of a wand. For many years I used tongs with great success.
Screw the ring on, tightening to just fingertip tight. Don’t wrench it, but make sure it’s secure. If you are storing the jars in the refrigerator, you are done! Just let them cool on the counter and place in the fridge.
Read on for canning steps if you want to store them in your pantry:
Using a jar lifter- this is an essential thing to canning, regular tongs do not work and I lost a jar when I tried to use them- lower the jar into the canner of 1/2 to 3/4 full of simmering water. Continue filling each jar and placing in the canner until all are done.
Bring the water to a boiling over high heat, set the timer for 10 minutes, and adjust the heat so the canner continues at a soft boil. I usually leave the lid slightly ajar and lower the heat to medium-high.
When the timer goes off, turn off the burner and remove the lid. Place a towel on a surface where you will be able to leave the jars for 24 hours. Use the jar lifter to remove each jar and set on the towel as gently as possible.
Leave to sit, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Check to make sure all the lids have depressed in the center. Then unscrew each ring and check the lids for proper seal by trying to lift off with your fingers. Lids that are properly sealed should not move or come off with that pressure. Store any that did not seal (yes, it happens!) in the refrigerator, and store the rest, without the rings, in the pantry. If I’m giving as gifts, I will put the ring back on, but the recommendation is to store them without the rings.
Here’s my biggest asparagus (or bean) pickling tip: after pickling, the spears look all shriveled for a few weeks. I thought I’d done something wrong, but when the pickles were ready after a few months, they looked normal again. SO, don’t worry- try them, they’ll be great!
Now- what to do with the leftover vinegar mixture? I’ve never yet made a batch of pickles where it was just right, and I made too little only once before deciding I’d prefer to have too much.
So, I just put it in a jar in the refrigerator waiting for the next pickling day. Sometimes I will just add vegetables right to the mixture in the jar over the space of a few weeks, let it sit in the fridge for awhile before I’ve got some great pickles.
Whatever you do, don’t throw it out. Bet you knew I’d say that.