The Call of the Jar: Pickled Asparagus
June 2, 2011
I often speak to people who have never canned food and they express their concerns. Some people discuss worries about the safety of home canning, others suffer from a lack of confidence about how to successfully can food , and still others think they do not have time in their busy lives to preserve the bounty of the seasons. It is to all of those skeptics that I dedicate this recipe. It is a perfect entry-level canning project: almost zero safety concerns, easy to do if you follow the basic instructions, and very quick to put together. And so here is my challenge to all those who have meant to can, but have not: Try this recipe now, while the asparagus is fresh and inexpensive. Fill your shelf with these beautiful jars. Feel the satisfaction of putting up your own food. Let your experience bolster your confidence for more canning projects through the summer. Heed the call of the jar!
Canning at home is perfectly safe. For anyone with concerns about the safety of home canned food, pickles are a perfect place to start. Safely canning food in a water bath requires that the contents of the jars be highly acidic. High acid is a given whenever pickling is concerned. The produce, whether it is asparagus or zucchini, is packed in a solution of vinegar and water. The acidity of the vinegar prevents the growth of the dreaded Clostridium botulinum (the nasty bacteria that produce a toxin causing botulism, a deadly disease). Pickling is probably the safest form of home preservation.
Canning is not a difficult task. There is a basic procedure to follow that involves sterilizing your jars (dipping them in boiling water for 10 minutes), filling the jars with (usually) hot product, wiping the rims clean, and topping with a new canning lid. The full jars are then submerged in the boiling water for the amount of time dictated by the recipe. No problem.
Canning does not have to take all day. People are always asking me how I have time to can with two kids and a full-time job. Really, it does not take that long. The key to starting out is to work with small batches. Do you really need 15 jars of the same type of jam? No, you do not. Start small. It is much more manageable and you will use it all up, which will make you wish you had more, and you will can again. Watch out, you will be hooked! I figure 1 1/2 -2 hours to make a small batch of something, but that includes clean up time! One helpful tip is to make sure you fill your canning pot and start it on HIGH on the stove before you gather the rest of your materials. It takes a long time to heat up the water. Once it is boiling, submerge the clean mason jars you are using. They need to boil for 10 minutes, but they will be fine in there for longer if you need more time to prepare the contents of the jars.
If you have not already, check out my page Home Canning Basics. It runs through the 3 basic steps to water-bath canning and the equipment you will need. The next step is to go buy the ingredients on the list below. Then set aside an hour to prep your ingredients (while the water bath heats up), sterilize your jars, fill your jars, and process your jars. Then you are done! Easy. Now go pour yourself a Bloody Mary and stick a spear of pickled asparagus in it. Of course you could make these and keep them in the refrigerator instead of processing them. That would be fine, just not as fun.
If you run into problems or have questions, feel free to comment below or email me and I will be happy to guide you. Let me know how it goes!
makes 6 jars
3 pounds asparagus
2 1/2 cup white vinegar
2 1/2 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons pickling salt
3 teaspoons mustard seeds
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, sliced and seeded
6 12-ounce mason jars with lids and bands (pint-sized jars work OK too, they are just not as tall)
Fill your canning pot with enough water to submerge your jars with at least 1 inch of water over them. Set the pot on the stove, cover, and turn on high.
Wash your jars, lids, and bands with hot, soapy water. Once the water in the canning pot is boiling, use your jar tongs to lower the jars into the pot. Make sure they are completely submerged. Boil for at least 10 minutes (longer is OK). Place the lids in a small saucepan and cover in water. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit.
Pour water, vinegar, and salt into a saucepan, bring to a boil. Trim asparagus to fit the jar. Cut them short enough that when they rest in the jar there is about 3/4 inch to the rim. (I use a jar as a guide as you see in the picture above). Save the bottoms of the asparagus for another use.
Once the jars have sterilized (boiled for 10 minutes) and the vinegar solution is hot, it is time to pack the jars. Using jar tongs, lift each jar from the boiling water, pour any water trapped inside back into the pot. Place the jars, open side up on a tray. Into each jar place one garlic clove and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seed. Pack the asparagus spears in tightly (I like them tip down, but it does not really matter). Slide a lemon slice or two down the edge of the jar.
Pour the boiling vinegar solution into the jars leaving a 1/2 inch head space. Use a clean rag to wipe the rip of each jar. Lift a lid from the hot water (I use a fork for this). Place the lid on the top of a jar. Place a band over the lid and screw down with your fingertips. (Do not really crank it down with your whole hand. You want the seal to form from the processing and not your force). Repeat with the rest of the jars.
Use your jar tongs to lower the full jars into the boiling water bath. The water will temporarily stop boiling as you add the jars. Wait until the water is boiling and then set a timer for 10 minutes. After ten minutes of boiling, life the jars from the boiling water. Let cool on the counter. Label with date and a description of the contents. These pickles can be stored for up to one year.
Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Pickled Asparagus
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