Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Pickled Asparagus – Planting And Preserving Your Spring Harvest

One of the earliest spring vegetables, asparagus takes a lot of patience to grow, but the results are worth it! Here's how to preserve your spring harvest.

asparagus tips on a white table

Photo: itsjustanalias (flickr)

Many people judge their harvest to be ready when the spears are as big around as their thumb. I think, secretly, they eat all the pencil thin ones themselves and don't tell you they have any until those are long gone!

As I was finishing up chores today, I spied the first asparagus tips emerging from the garden. As soon as I noticed the few small ones, before long I could see dozens that were ready to pick.

It is hard to believe that two short weeks ago we had snow and now I will be harvesting my first crop of delicate asparagus!

Asparagus Snobbery

I am somewhat of an asparagus snob. My choice stems, or spears, have to be no bigger around than a pencil (If pressed, I will allow them to be as large as my little finger).

Anything larger and they seem to scream *tough and fibrous* to me. This is, of course, not the case.

Many people judge their harvest to be ready when the spears are as big around as their thumb. I think, secretly, they eat all the pencil thin ones themselves and don’t tell you they have any until those are long gone.

Planting and Growing Asparagus

The thing about asparagus, is that you have to be very patient if you want to grow it. The year before you plan on harvesting any, you will be preparing the bed and planting the thin root clusters.

Then, it is a long wait until the following spring, when a few, tiny spears appear. You must be judicious and only harvest a taste of these. You want the plants to become well established before really harvesting any quantity.

Finally, the second year AFTER you originally planted your asparagus roots, you will have a good crop.

Asparagus is also an unlikely, but highly prized, wild food. At any old homestead you might know about, there is usually an old asparagus patch that has long been neglected. The farm wife often tended to the beds, throwing salt on the area to kill weeds and help the asparagus grow.

Preserving Asparagus

I like to pickle my asparagus for the pantry. Asparagus may be one of the earliest things I put into my pantry each year. Plan on eating all that you can stand for a few days, then pickle them!

You can buy long, narrow jars that are made to display the spears, but this is for purely aesthetic reasons and is not really necessary.

Later this summer, why not harvest some fresh dill from the garden and throw it in the freezer so you have it on hand for the next asparagus season?

Recipe: Pickled Asparagus

Ingredients (makes 8 pints):

  • 12 pounds of asparagus spears – washed and cut to fit your jars
  • 8 smalled dried peppers
  • 4 tablespoons dill seed
  • 4 teaspoons whole mustard seed
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 5 cups distilled vinegar
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup canning salt

Directions:

  1. Place 1 hot pepper, 1/2 tsp dill, 1.2 tsp mustard seed and 1 clove garlic in each jar
  2. Firmly pack asparagus vertically into jars, don’t force them. Trim when necessary and leave 1/2 inch headspace
  3. Combine vinegar, water and salt. Heat to boiling.
  4. Pour boiling mixture over asparagus spears, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
  5. Release any air bubbles with a plastic or wooden utensil
  6. Seal and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes. Start timing when water starts to boil.
  7. Let sit for 2 weeks before sampling.
Amy Jeanroy

Amy Jeanroy lives on a small family farm in Nebraska. She and her family raise organic produce, milk, eggs and meat for sale. When she is not tending to the goats and gardens, Amy works as a freelance writer on gardening and green living topics, with a frugal touch. She is the Herb Gardens Guide for About.com, as well as the author of Canning and Preserving For Dummies, 2nd edition, 2009.

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