April in the Pacific Northwest means fresh, local asparagus. It’s been in the stores for a while but getting it fresh is so much better. I love being able to take advantage of the bounty while it is in season. The farmers markets in Corvallis and Albany open April 20 and soon the local farm stands in the area will be opening so you’ll have options for local asparagus.
The first step in preserving any food is to select good quality produce. You’ll want to look for young tender stalks, with compact tips. Wash, trim off any scales on the stems and cut off any tough ends and wash again. At this point you will be ready to preserve it using your favorite method.
One way to preserve asparagus is to freeze it. Wash the stalks and sort by size. You can leave the stalks whole or cut into one- to two-inch pieces. Blanching is a necessary step in the freezing process. By heating it for a short period of time you will stop enzymes that can change the flavor, texture, color and nutrition of the asparagus. You can either use the boiling water method to blanch it or the steam method.
For the boiling water blanching method, use a large pot with a tight fitting lid and one gallon of water for each pound of asparagus. Bring the water to a rolling boil, when large bubbles appear and don’t stop when you stir. Put a small amount of asparagus in a strainer or cheesecloth and put it in the boiling water so it is completely covered. Put the lid on and boil for 1-1/2 minutes for small stalks, 2 minutes for medium and 3 minutes for large.
Start your timer when the water returns to a full boil. Remove the asparagus and immediately cool it under cold running water or ice water for the same amount of time as for the blanching process. When it is thoroughly cool, drain it and pack it.
The steam blanching method is similar but you will only need one inch of water in the pot. Bring to a rolling boil, put a colander or steamer basket of asparagus in the pot. The rest of the process is identical to the boiling water method.
Pack the asparagus tightly into your choice of container; freezer bags, rigid plastic containers, glass wide-mouth canning jars, or vacuum pack plastic bags designed for freezing. No headspace is needed for asparagus.
Asparagus is a low acid vegetable so if you plan on canning it you’ll need to use a pressure canner. A boiling water canner can be used only if you are pickling the asparagus. For pressure canning asparagus you can cut it into one inch or leave whole.
There are two methods used in pressure canning, hot pack and raw pack. For hot pack, cover asparagus with boiling water and boil for 2-3 minutes. Pack loosely into hot jars, leaving one inch headspace. Add salt, if desired. Cover with the boiling liquid you cooked the asparagus in, unless the cooking water is gritty. If the water did get gritty, discard it and use freshly boiled water.
For raw pack you don’t pre-cook the stalks, just tightly pack them into the jar leaving one inch headspace. Add salt if desired. Cover with boiling water. For either method you will process at 240 degrees (10 pounds pressure for a weighted gauge, 11 pounds pressure for a dial gauge) for 30 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.
You can find a lot of great information in the Pacific Northwest Extension Publication (PNW) No. 172, “Canning Vegetables.”
Another great way to preserve asparagus is to pickle it. I’m always looking for new recipes and I’m going to give this one from the Ball website a try this year. Here’s the link www.freshpreserving.com/lemony-dilled-asparagus-br4000.html.
Lemony Dilled Asparagus
• 3-1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
• 1-1/2 cups lemon juice
• 5 cups water
• 1/4 cup Ball salt for pickling and preserving
• 2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. sugar
• 5 lbs. fresh asparagus
• 2 tsp. yellow mustard seed, divided
• 1 tsp. black peppercorns, divided
• 32 strips of lemon peel from 8 lemons (cut strips off lemon with vegetable peeler), divided
• 4 small bay leaves, divided
• 32 sprigs fresh thyme
• 1/4 cup minced garlic
• 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
• Ball Pickle Crisp (optional)
• 4 Ball (28 oz.) spiral glass preserving jars with lids and bands or 4 (32 oz.) quarts
1. Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Wash lids in warm soapy water and set aside with bands.
2. Bring first five ingredients to a boil in a large stainless steel or enameled saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve.
3. Rinse asparagus. Cut spears into 6-inch lengths to fit jars, discarding tough ends. Working with one jar at a time, place one-half teaspoon mustard seed, one-fourth teaspoon peppercorns, eight strips of lemon peel, one bay leaf, eight thyme sprigs, one tablespoon minced garlic and one-fourth cup sliced shallots in a hot jar. Tightly pack asparagus, cut ends down, in jar, leaving half-inch headspace. Add 1⁄4 teaspoons Ball Pickle Crisp to jar, if desired. Ladle hot pickling liquid over asparagus, leaving half-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band, and adjust to fingertip-tight. Place jar in boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.
4. Process jars 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat; remove lid, and let jars stand 5 minutes. Remove jars and cool.