Thursday, May 10, 2018

Asparagus season and gearing up for Summer!

So far, here in the Pacific Northwest, we've had a cool moderate spring.  Temperatures are starting to really ramping up though, which leads to excitment as I have been planting herbs and vegetables in anticipation of this year's Gumbo Night.  Last year, our testing year, was a huge success.  I made a few mistakes of my own, but nothing that anyone would notice.  So for this year, I'm changing out a few recipes, adding a twist to one existing one, and planning things out well in advance - 3 months to be exact!  In the garden we have growing tomatoes, potatoes, parsley, cilantro, corn, kale, onions, peppers, carrots,  beets, and even watermelon! My summer goal is to grow as much of my menu on my own as I can.  I do realize that I can grow everthing, but I can sure as well try!

One item that I like to serve, and that I am about out of is pickled asparagus.  So this weekend, it's on the to do list!   My pickling recipe is pretty simple.  Farm Fresh asparagus, organic garlic, white onion, dill, mustard seed, coriander seed, red pepper flakes, sugar, whole pepper, salt, vinegar, filtered water.  Sounds easy right?  The issue we have is that sometimes, there is a tad bit too much salt and they are too briney tasting. While those may not taste as good out of the jar, they are fabulous in bloody mary's or in a macaroni salad!    I use a little bit less sugar/salt than the Ball recipe, as I've adjusted it to my liking.

When first trying your hand at pickling any item, always start in small batches and take notes!  You need to let your pickled items sit for at LEAST 3 months before consuming.  I have had something go awry and have thrown out jars of pickled items because the result was not what I wanted.  If you are not familar with water bath canning, check with your county extension office or local market, many have classes geared for newbies!

As always, remember to read the reciepe all the way thru first before attempting!!

Amy's Pickled Asparagus
Needs:  Pint and a half Ball jars with new lids and bands  (the narrow tall ones)
Water bath Canning supplies (canner with rack, jar lifter, table or area for prep
Preferably - two burner outdoor propane cooktop
Farm Fresh Asparagus (10-15 lbs)

For each jar you will need:
1 clove of garlic
1/4 inch slice of raw white onion
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp sea salt (the brine has some salt in it, so I only add a scant amount, if any)
1-2 sprigs fresh dill
1/4 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp mustard seed
1/4 tsp peppercorns (black, red, or white)
1/4 tsp coriander seed - collected from the previous years harvest!
** note, these spices are the minimum amount of measurements per jar.   Change it up depending on your taste!  
Optional - Ball Pickle Crisp (helps to keep them a bit crunchy)

Pickling Solution (50% water to vinegar ratio)
1 quart white distilled vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
5 cups filtered water (very important to use filtered water)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup pickling salt

Directions (see Ball Pickled-asparagus)
** amy's tip.  Check to see how many jars fit into your canner.   That will be the max of jars you can process at one time - unless you are like me and have two canners (large and medium).  Make note of the amount and only prep those jars at once since you want the jars to be warm (hint, the dishwasher with sanitize cycle is a life saver, if you have extra jars, place them in the oven on warm until ready to use)

*Heat pickling solution in a non-reactive pan to a boil then simmer
*Sterilize jars and tools
*Prepare your water bath canner (mine is outside so I put the propane flame to low)
*Rinse and trim asparagus to fit in the jars within one inch.  Discarde the tough ends, but keep any odd pieces (these are great to pack into jars as filler).
*When the brine is hot, place the spice mixture into hot jars in this order: onion slice,  garlic, dill, everything else (except pickle crisp), asparagus
*Make sure to tightly pack the asparagus, shove as much in there as you can!
*If using pickle crisp, add this in at this step.
*Make sure your water bath canner is ready, once you start the next step, the clock is ticking!
*Ladle the hot brine over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 inch headspace
*Remove any air bubbles (I have chopsticks which are perfect for this)
*Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel dipped in hot water (NOT THE BRINE), then center the lid, apply band to finger tight (not too tight!)
*Place in water bath canner rack and once all are in,  submerge and process for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.
*Lift jars out of boiling water (canning  racks are great, aren't they?), rest for a minute nd then place on a clean towel to let cool.   
*Repeat until all jars are done.
*Once cool, check to make sure they are sealed.  If not, ok to re;process once or just put in fridge for a few weeks to eat fresh!
*Store jars, once cooled, in a dark place for up to a year (mine last 2 years, but are best quality 6 months to a year).  

Notes and Tips:
The most important thing is food safety.  Please make sure everything is sterilized - jars, lids, bands, equipment, your hands!  

Next - if you run out of pickling brine - always add water and vinegar in equal amounts.   I like the tang of apple cider vinegar, but not too much as I want the taste of the asparagus to shine.

If you have a dishwasher with a sanitize cylce, put your jars in there and plan for them to be done as your are ready to place the asparagus in them (so they are hot).   The last thing you want to do is to introduce mold and bacteria - so be diligent!

Water.  Water is life, but hard water does not make good pickles.   I double filter the water I use when canning.  I learned the hard way.  If you don't have access to soft water, a few days ahead boil the water off, then let sit and remove any scum - be sure to not disturb any sediment when placing into a clean pitcher.

If you don't can, ask someone experienced  to help you along for the first time - or take a class.  

Uses for pickled asparagus.  Straight from the jar, chopped and used in tuna salads, sliced and used in a macaroni salad (recipe to come this summer!), bloody mary's, chopped with capers in a chicken picata (so yummy) or wherever else you can think to add this pickled goodness. 

That's all for this tasty Thursday!  Off to clean and prepare for canning this weekend!  Pictures will be posted later!!

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