Easily make and can your own asparagus pickles to use in salads, appetizers and cheese plates with this complete picture tutorial for pickling and canning asparagus. You can also store these without canning in the refrigerator for up to a year if you have the space.
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Do you have a bumper crop of asparagus or a nice farmer's market bag full to take care of? After eating your fill of roasted asparagus (drizzle with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and cook in a 400 degree oven for just 10-15 minutes) or easily grilled with this amazing spice rub, what to do with the rest?
Pickle it! Tangy, slightly spicy, and garlicky, pickled asparagus is wonderful right out of the jar, on salads, and makes an quick and delicious rolled appetizer using softened cream cheese, garlic and sliced meat. Yum...I literally could (and have!) made a meal out of them.
Pickling vegetables is actually really easy, either boiling-water canned so they can live on a shelf or just stored in a refrigerator for up to a year (they also stay crisper this way, like refrigerator pickles).
Though using a boiling water canner adds extra steps, it actually only adds a few extra minutes to the process. It's so easy in fact, that I'm going to walk you through it step-by-step so you can have your own fancy pickled asparagus.
So this tutorial is split into two sections: the first section guides you through the pickling process and at the end of that you can refrigerate the jars or continue through the canning process.
Note: there are a lot of pictures in this article, but canning is an area where having step-by-step illustrations is extremely helpful, I've found. I've included links to affiliate products where appropriate for your information (and if you use them, you'll help support the site at no extra cost to you, so thank you!)
Guide for Pickling & Canning Asparagus
Begin with your jars.
- A canner load fits 7 jars and I use either regular pint jars and/or 12-oz quilted jars (I like the way the asparagus looks in the straight-sided 12-oz jars, though I can't find them for sale anymore).
- Clean them well with soap and hot water (use a bottle brush or an old baby bottle brush from like I do).
- Keep the jars warm. The Ball Blue Book (great resource you should have if you want to can), illustrates putting the jars into the warm canner water to keep warm, but I find it's too hard to get them in and out again quickly, so I just fill the jars with the hottest tap water and leave them in the sink. I refill them if they get too cool. I have a friend always puts hers in a 200 degree oven upside down on a towel-lined tray. The point is to keep them warm until you need to fill them before canning.
UNLESS you are not canning and just want to keep them in the fridge! Then just clean them.
Prepare the asparagus.
- Put one spear in a jar and cut it to 1/2" below the jar top, then use that as a measure for cutting the remainder of the asparagus. Tip: you can see in the picture that I like to make seven piles to represent the jars- it helps me visualize how many I need and when I'm close to having enough to fill the jars.
- Peel 7 cloves of garlic, and cut in half (to release more flavor).
Make the brine.
- Measure 5 cups water and 5 cups vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar because it's a bit more mild, some people like white wine vinegar, but regular white vinegar works, too) into a large non-reactive pot.
- Add 5 TB canning/pickling salt, and 4 TB. sugar.
- Stir well and bring to a slow boil.
Pack the jars.
- Drain one of the warming jars.
- Place the garlic clove, a few peppercorns, and a few shakes of red pepper flakes in the bottom of the jar (the red pepper and peppercorns are optional - we like them with a bit of spice).
- Start packing the asparagus spears in the jar, pointed end down (although apparently there is some debate about this- some like their spears pointing up!).
- Squeeze in as many as you can without breaking them.
I like to have all the jars filled before adding the hot brine, because the next steps need to be done quickly. I know it allows the jars to cool somewhat, but I've never had a problem when I fill them with the boiling liquid. If you're worried about this, you can complete one jar at a time: drain, fill with vegetables, add liquid, attach lid, and set in canner (or set aside if refrigerating) before moving to the next jar.
UPDATE as of 2015: You no longer have to let the lids sit in hot water for 3-5 minutes. Now you simply wash the lids before using. Always use brand new two-piece canning lids when canning, though, unless you are not canning, then you CAN reuse old clean lids.
NOTE: if you plan to can these, now is the time to fill your canner 1/2 to 3/4 full with water and start heating to a boil.
Fill the jars with brine.
- When the vinegar mixture comes to a boil and lids are ready, pour the mixture into one jar at a time using a canning funnel (since we're dealing with hot liquids, I like to use a stainless steel funnel). Fill to within 1/2" from the top. Complete the following steps for each jar before moving on to another:
- Use a non metal spatula (I love these flat plastic ones!) to go all around the jar to remove any air bubbles.
- Make sure the liquid is still 1/2" from top (called the headspace), adding more if necessary.
- Wipe the rim of the jar with a damped cloth or paper towel. I'm using an old t-shirt cloth in the photo above.
- Place a lid on the jar. Here I'm using a fancy "lid lifter" which is just a magnet on the end of a wand. Note: with the new advice on not soaking the lids, the jar lifter is pretty much obsolete - just use your hands, though try not to touch the underside.
- Screw the ring on, tightening to just fingertip tight. Don't wrench it, but make sure it's secure.
If you are storing the jars in the refrigerator, you are done! Just move the jar to the side and continue filling the remaining jars. Let them cool on the counter for a bit and place in the fridge.
Water-Bath Steps for Canning Asparagus Pickles
Add jars, one at a time, to water-bath canner.
- With water simmering in the water-bath canner, use a jar lifter to lower each jar onto the rack of the canner (the rack can be in the bottom like mine above, or sitting up top, which you'll fill and the lower). A jar lifter is an essential tool, I've found, for canning- regular tongs do not work well and I broke a jar when I tried to use them.
- Continue filling each jar and placing in the canner until all are done.
Process the jars.
- Bring the water to a boiling over high heat.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and adjust the heat so the canner continues at a soft boil, like shown, which is medium to medium-high on my stove.
- Update: I've discovered stainless steel canners with clear glass lids, which makes monitoring the boil SO much easier. They are also safe for smooth top ranges- yay!
- When the timer goes off, turn off the burner and remove the lid.
- Place a towel on a surface where you will be able to leave the jars for 24 hours.
- Use the jar lifter to remove each jar and set on the towel as gently as possible.
Prepare for storage.
- Leave to sit, undisturbed, for 24 hours.
- Check seals: make sure all the lids have depressed in the center and then unscrew each ring and check the lids for proper seal by trying to lift off with your fingers. Lids that are properly sealed should not move or come off with that pressure.
- Store any that did not seal (yes, it happens!) in the refrigerator, and store the rest, without the rings, in the pantry. (If I'm giving as gifts, I will put the ring back on when gifting, but the recommendation is to store them without the rings.)
Here's an asparagus (and bean) pickling tip: after pickling, the spears will look all shriveled for a few weeks. I thought I'd done something wrong, but when the pickles were ready after a few months, they looked normal again. SO, don't worry- try them, they'll be great!
A Step-by-Step Guide to Pickling And Canning Asparagus
- 10 to 12 pounds asparagus
- 7 large cloves garlic cut in half
- 5 cups water
- 5 cups vinegar
- 5 tablespoons canning/pickling salt
- 4 tablespoons sugar
Optional additions per jar:
- 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Clean 7 pint or 12-oz jars, along with the lids and rings well with soap and hot water. Keep the clean jars warm by placing into warm canner water, filled with hottest tap water in the sink. **See notes below for refrigerator pickling.**
- Prepare asparagus: Put one spear in a jar and cut it to 1/2" below the jar top, then use that as a measure for cutting the remainder of the asparagus. Have all the asparagus cut before proceeding.
- Fill a water-bath canner 1/2 to 3/4 full of water and bring to a low boil.
- Add water, vinegar, canning salt and sugar to a large, non-reactive pot. Stir well and bring to a slow boil.
- Pack the jars: place a garlic clove and the optional peppercorns and red pepper flakes in the bottom of each jar and fill with asparagus spears point-side down. Pack them in tight, as they'll shrink when heated.
- Fill the jars, one at a time, with the hot vinegar mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles with a non-metal spatula, replace any brine as needed to keep headspace, and wipe rim with a damp towel.
- Attach lid and ring, tightening to just fingertip tight.
- Lower each jar as you fill it into the canner (or set them on a rack resting on the canner) using a jar lifter. Continue filling each jar and placing them in the canner until done.
- Bring the canner to a rolling boil over high heat. Set a timer for 10 minutes and adjust the heat so the canner continues at a soft boil.
- When the timer goes off, turn off the burner, remove the lid, and let jars sit for 5 minutes (updated USDA recommendation). Use the jar lifter to remove each jar and set on a towel-lined surface as gently as possible. Leave to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. Check lids and seals, store any unsealed jars in the fridge and store the rest, without the rings, in a cool, dark, place. The jars are best used within a year (but we've eaten 2-year-old jars and they've been fine).
- Clean jars, but don't worry about keeping them warm, and fill with vegetables, spices and vinegar mixture as outlined.
- You can fill the brine all the way to the top, since headspace doesn't matter.
- Attach lids as outlined, let sit on the counter for a bit until cooled and place in the refrigerator for storage. They will last 6 months to a year.
Got leftover vinegar mixture?
Now, what do you do if you have any leftover brine mixture? I've never yet made a batch of pickles where it was just right- and the time I made too little I decided I'd always prefer to have too much!
Here are 3 options to deal with unused pickling brine:
- Add it to a quart-sized jar (or smaller if you have only a bit) and put it in the refrigerator to wait for the next pickling day. Just reheat it with the new brine.
- You can also simply add vegetables right to the mixture in the jar over the space of a few weeks and let it sit in the fridge for a month or so before eating. I usually add a clove of garlic when I do this - it's a great way to use up bits and pieces of vegetables.
- Use it as the vinegar base for homemade vinaigrette.
Whatever you do, don't throw it out - but I bet you knew I'd say that!
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