We`re writing this articles in the order of difficulty (at least as I perceive it). You`ll find that once you`ve made a pickle, the process is similar to others. We`re going to introduce pressure canning today. But let`s not get too far ahead of ourselves yet…
Asparagus are awesome. We`ve learned a lot about this amazing vegetable in the last year and I really think it will taste different this year because of our excitement and knowledge. The highlights:
- a new asparagus plant must be left to grow for several years before harvesting for the first time
- stalks have to be harvested by hand because asparagus reaches optimal eating size for about one day and each stalk grows at a different pace
- farmers must decide when to stop cutting – if they harvest their field for too long though the early spring it will not grow in the following year
We also learned an amazing trick to bring less that perfect Asparagus (aka `shriveling`) back to life here.
When it comes to preserving, one of the first considerations is a products acidity. Most vegetables are not acidic enough to can in a boiling water method (most fruit are which is why jams and jellies are fine this way). This means we have two options – turn them in to pickles or pressure can them.
The pickling process is very similar to the techniques for fiddleheads. We use a different recipe and love to add garlic and hot peppers. Pickled Asparagus may sound odd to the uninitiated but to those in the secret pickled asparagus society (SPAS) these are treasures in the kitchen. I love them on the side of a hearty meal, added to a salad and Caesars will never be the same.
We shared our recipe and technique in an article last year that you can find here. If you`re new to canning this is a great starting place.
Assuming that you don`t want to eat all of your vegetables as pickles, it is time to branch out into different preserving techniques. Asparagus can be frozen after a brief blanching or pressure canned. We haven`t dehydrated them before and I`m told they can make a great powder for soups (similar to awesome beet powder).
Pressure canning is more technical than water bath canning. We essentially pack vegetables into sterilized hot jars (sometimes after cooking briefly called hot-packing and sometimes without pre-cooking called raw pack). The jars are placed in a pressure canner and processed under the additional heat and steam created by the cooker. Steam (when under pressure) produces more heat than the typical boiling temperature of 100 degrees celsius (or 212 farenheit). A small amount of salt is typically added to the jars along with boiling water.
The results are phenomenal – what you sacrifice in `crunch`is replaced by the thrill of tasting the flavors of your local terroir through the winter. We preserved 3 types of beans and peas like this last year. The flavors are stunning in the middle of winter and we`ll be significantly increasing our quantities of preserved veggies this year.
Pressure cookers and canners have come a long way in regards to safety and ease of use. Learning how to pressure can would take more than a single article but spending 30-40 minutes on the website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation will get you what you need to know. They have an introduction to pressure canning and details on how they recommend doing Asparagus.
Don`t be intimidated by people saying this is tough. It takes care and it takes some research but it`s still basic cooking techniques – boiling liquids, cutting and cleaning. Do your homework upfront and eat unbelievable food through the winter.
A final tip: if you are preserving a lot of asparagus, avoid the grocery store. Talk to a farmer at a market before buying in quantity. There`s a few ways this may save you some cash and help him or her out as well:
- Towards the end of a day they may be going home with waste. Taking a large quantity from them can save spoilage and help them out. No one likes to see their hard work go to waste. It`s also a bitter pill to sell it at a loss – I want them to be able to make a sustainable living by this and don`t try to pound lowest price. I also tend to return with a jar of their own product for them to enjoy.
- Talking to a farmer and `pre-ordering` can be the best approach. You may have to wait an extra week but you`re not pillaging his or her entire stock and leaving them with dissatisfied customers. Asking to purchase a quantity the week before can allow them to plan for your purchase and this is often greeted with kindness.
We welcome any questions or tips and would love to hear yours!
Well that`s all for today`s post in our Preserving Spring series. We are continuing to write one per day as a follow-up to the article in Edible Toronto. We`re continuing to do one-a-day until complete and you can see the entire series by clicking here.