Time to Pickle

Asparagus, that Is

Fresh local asparagus awaiting the brine.

When I was young and about to begin my life’s journey with the love of my life, he introduced me to his mother. At some point she introduced me to pickled asparagus. I came from a family that lived close to the edge, I can’t recall eating this strange green spear. But I took an immediate liking to it – both fresh and pickled.

Mother-In-Law Bertha was a typical 1960’s housewife. She did it all. Keeping house for the family, trying to keep control of two rambunctious boys, and holding down several jobs to help keep the family afloat. And something she rarely talked about. She was a WAC in WWII. To her dying day she never once talked about the government secrets she had sworn to keep. A simple yet complex woman. 

And despite the occasional mother-in-law/daughter-in-law run-ins, I owe more to her than the amazing son with whom she gifted me. She passed on a Green family rite of spring. Pickling asparagus. As far as I can tell, this dates back more than sixty years.

This year the first challenge was finding LOCAL asparagus. The past few years we’ve used imported stuff and it was okay. But it wasn’t as fresh or tasty as local asparagus. Plus, I unfortunately believed rumors that there were no longer any local Delta farms still growing it.

A bit of Googling and a few phone calls later I found out that Klein Farms still grows it and Greg Paul Produce sells it from his shed near Paradise Point.

After a quick morning run out there I was home with two boxes (11 pounds each at $33 a box). Not cheap but there’s a feel-good mood when you are supporting local businesses.

Our other supplies were ready. Let the pickling begin!! 

Up until maybe seven or eight years ago we were able to buy local asparagus in 22- or 24-pound lugs. This year it was in 11-pound boxes. Although the recipe says 24-pound lugs make 18-quart jars, our two boxes (22 pounds) made 16 jars.

Prepped and ready for the brine.

Bertha’s Recipe

Icing the ‘gras after a short stay at the boil.

Pre-prep – Wash and sterilize all jars and lids. Have all supplies on hand. Use only salt that has NO iodine in it. Salt with iodine will cloud up your brine as your jars sit. Also go through your pickling spice and remove all cloves, which may give an off-taste to the final product. Fill a sink or container with ice and then add water until it reaches the top of the ice. 

Step #1 – Wash and cut your spears. I use a ruler to mark off the cut point. You don’t want your spears to touch the quart jar lid, so best to cut them about 5-½ inches long. Don’t worry about waste because the ends can be used too. Cut off any white or purple sections (or break them off) and cut the odd ends to about two or three-inch lengths.

Step #2 – Fill a large pot about 2/3 with water and bring to a boil. Add asparagus in batches of about two pounds and let boil for 1-1/2 minutes then immerse in ice-cold water for two minutes. Remove and pat dry.

Brine spices. Be sure to pull the cloves out per author’s advice.

Step #3 – Line your jars up and add a bay leaf and at least one (up to three) cloves of garlic.  Pack each jar with spears or cut ends. Add more garlic if you want to. 

Step #4 – Make the brine by combining 2 quarts white vinegar, 3 quarts of water, 10 tablespoons non-iodized salt, and 1 Tablespoon pickling spice with cloves removed. Boil for 15 minutes. Strain and pour into jars with asparagus up to about ¼ inch below the jar rim. Immediately screw the lid tight. Set aside to cool down. You should hear happy popping as the lids seal. Store in a cool dark place and let sit for six weeks. Open and enjoy. These are great plain or add to cocktails. Bloody Mary, anyone?

Get creative!

The finished product.

For an overview of local asparagus history, see David Stuart’s Asparagus: Historic Signature Crop of the Delta. 

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