Friday, June 12, 2009

Pickled Asparagus

Here's the deal - I haven't opened any jars of pickled asparagus yet because they need at least another couple of weeks to pickle. And since this is the first batch of pickled asparagus that I have ever made, I pass this recipe on to you to try at your own risk.

Lorne happened to be out getting his morning paper last week while I was gardening and he pulled in to have another chat. I asked him why the recipe hadn't mentioned anything about mustard seeds, when I could see lots of mustard seeds in the jar he had given me. He seemed surprised that the mustard seeds had been left out of the recipe, but didn't recommend an amount for the seeds. As I mentioned in the initial blog entry, his pickled asparagus had a little hot pepper, black and pink peppercorns, and who knows what else. Obviously, he uses his recipe as a base and has added ingredients over the years.

I am also thinking that to make really good dills (asparagus or otherwise), using the hearty dill weed (which you usually see in the middle of the summer) would give you the best dill flavour. Instead, I used the dill that is available year-round from the grocery store, although I'm betting that the dried dill seed would have been a better choice for flavour.

There has been some debate with my friend, Tamara, on the subject of needing to use a pressure canner to ensure that there will be no botulism, or if the boiling water bath will do. If you were canning vegetables without adding the vinegary brine and turning them into pickles, I would say you should be using a pressure canner. However, the brine is preserving the vegetables, along with keeping any bacteria at bay. At least, that is my hope. Botulism sounds almost as nasty as it probably is.

It is important to pack the asparagus into the jars very tightly. According to my sister, you have to be pretty aggressive when packing the asparagus. I didn't realize that mine weren't packed tight enough and my jars have asparagus that have floated to the top of the jar, leaving the tips out of the dilly brine. This is undesirable in anything pickled, and should be avoided. I also decided I would try a few different ways of packing the jars. Some have the tips pointed up, some have the tips pointed down, and there is even one jar with little pieces that I had leftover from trimming the asparagus to fit the jars. Since then, I have read that tips down are the way to go.

If you end up pickling asparagus, I'd love to hear how yours turns out. Good luck!

Preparing your jars for canning:Either hand wash the jars or run through a hot cycle of your dishwasher. Place the clean jars on a baking sheet and set in a 250 degree oven. Place the snap lids and rings in a saucepan full of water and bring to boil. Keep the lids and rings in the hot water until you are ready to seal the jars. While you are getting this prep work done, drag out your big canning pot, fill it two-thirds full of water and bring to a rolling boil. If you don't have a big canning pot, they aren't very expensive and they are very necessary if you are canning veggies and fruit (I bought mine at the local Home Hardware). FYI - I keep old rings to use again but you should never try to use the snap lids twice. Once a jar has been opened, it must be refrigerated; and once the jar is finished, the snap lid can be disposed of.

Pickled Asparagus
Makes about 7 1-quart jars.

6 lbs. very fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed
8 c. filtered water
2 c. white vinegar (if not using filtered water, increase the vinegar by a 1/2 cup)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 T. pickling salt
1/4 t. alum
1 clove garlic per jar
1 sprig fresh dill or 1 T. dill seed per jar
Optional: 3 peppercorns per jar

1. Place the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and alum into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, wash and trim the asparagus to fit into the jars.
2. Remove the jars from the warm oven. Place one clove of garlic, a sprig of fresh dill, and 3 peppercorns (if using) in each jar. Pack the asparagus tightly into the jars. Carefully pour the boiling brine into the packed jars, being sure to cover the ends of the asparagus that are sticking up, but leaving about a 1/4-inch of space from the top of the jar.
3. Wipe the rims of the jars and place a snap lid on each one, followed by a ring. Tighten the rings well. Place each jar into the rapidly boiling water in the canning pot. Set the timer for 10 minutes. You are basically boiling the jars of asparagus during this process, killing the bacteria that might be inside the jar.
4. When the 10 minutes is up, carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and set on a flat surface to cool. As the jars cool down, you should here the snap lids "snap". This tells you that they have sealed and they are fine to store at room temperature (when those lids pop, your heart will probably start to do a little happy dance!). Don't eat the asparagus for at least 3 weeks to allow the flavours to penetrate the asparagus.