Easily make and can your own asparagus pickles to use in salads, appetizers and cheese plates with this picture tutorial for pickled and canned asparagus. You can also store these without canning in the refrigerator for up to a year.
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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-yum) or easily grilled with this amazing spice rub, what can you do with the rest?
My favorite thing is to pickle it!
Tangy, slightly spicy, and garlicky, pickled asparagus is wonderful right out of the jar, on salads, and makes a 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.
How to pickle asparagus?
Pickling vegetables is actually really easy, either boiling-water canned so they can sit on a shelf or simply stored in a refrigerator for up to a year (they also stay crisper this way, like refrigerator pickles).
- Prep asparagus and spices.
- Make a brine.
- Pack jars and add brine.
- Refrigerate or can in a water-bath canner.
Using a boiling water canner does add a few extra steps, but 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.
Note: there are a lot of pictures in this tutorial, but I've found that canning is an area where having step-by-step illustrations is extremely helpful.
Tutorial for Pickled and Canned Asparagus (and Refrigerator Pickles)
Begin with Your Jars
- A canner load typically 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).
- Clean them well with soap and hot water (easy to do with a bottle brush like this).
- 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 simply 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. However you do it, the point is to keep them warm until you need to fill them before canning so they aren't shocked when you place them in the hot canner which could cause cracking.
UNLESS you are not canning and just want to keep them in the fridge! Then just clean them.
Prepare the Asparagus and Garlic
- Cut spears to fit jars. 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. PRO TIP: you can see in the photo above 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 into a large non-reactive pot (I use apple cider vinegar because it's a bit more mild, some people like white wine vinegar, but regular white vinegar works, too).
- Add salt and sugar: use 5 tablespoons canning/pickling salt or pure sea salt, and 4 tablespoons sugar (you can adjust the sugar amount, but not the salt amount).
- Stir well and bring to a slow boil.
Pack the Jars
- Drain one of the warming jars.
- Add spices and garlic. 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).
- Then pack 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.
PRO TIP: 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.
Prepare Canning Lids
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 (set of 120 lids at a good price) when canning, though (unless you are not canning, but storing in the fridge - then you CAN reuse old clean lids).
IF CANNING: if you plan to can these, now is the time to fill your water bath canner or stockpot 1/2 to 3/4 full with water and start heating to a boil.
Need a canner? I upgraded to this stainless steel 20-qt. stock pot with a glass lid with this canning rack - it was the best decision ever - you can see and monitor the boil without lifting the lid AND it sits FLAT on my new glass cooktop!
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 stainless steel ladle and stainless steel canning funnel (since we're dealing with hot liquids, I always use stainless steel).
- 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 (these flat plastic ones work well) to go all around the jar to remove any air bubbles.
- Check the headspace. Make sure the liquid is still 1/2" from top (called the headspace), adding more if necessary. They also make a canning tool for this if you'd prefer it over a ruler.
- 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. UPDATE: with the new advice on not needing to soak the lids, the lid 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.
Here's a video that shows how easy it is to can with a boiling-water canner:
Water-Bath Steps for Pickled and Canned Asparagus
Add Filled 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.
Like I mentioned, discovering the stainless steel canners with clear glass lids makes monitoring the boil SO much easier than lifting the lid of my old enamel canner!
- When the timer goes off, turn off the burner and remove the lid.
- Set another timer for 5 minutes - let the jars sit in the cooling canner until the timer goes off (this helps with sealing and adjusting to the temperature change).
- 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: after 24 hours, 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 - don't rely only on the depressed centers, occasionally they still aren't sealed properly.
- 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.)
PRO TIP (for pickled beans, too): After pickling, the spears will look all shriveled for a few weeks. When this first happened to me 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, they'll be great!
What do you do with leftover pickling brine?
I've never yet made a batch of pickles where it was just right. And making too much brine always preferable to making too little - you don't want to have to stop midway and make more brine! There are a few ways to use the extra brine - below are my favorites.
Three ways to use up 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)!
Pickled and Canned Asparagus FAQs
Like all canned, pickled products, this will have a higher salt content than fresh or frozen, so if you're trying to avoid salt, you'd want to eat them in moderation.
Otherwise, most of the nutritional value is still there after pickling and canning, so adding some pickled asparagus to appetizers, cheese boards, and salads is good for you.
The flecks are a protein buildup called rutin, a natural flavonoid in asparagus that sometimes reacts harmlessly with the vinegar. They are safe to eat.
Some people do blanch before canning, but the canning process itself "cooks" the spears and I've never felt the need to blanch, so this recipe doesn't require it.
Even for the refrigerated version, I don't blanch - the heat from the brine softens them sufficiently.
Canned pickled asparagus will last for 18 months at room temperature (you should inspect the seals, though, regularly, and dispose of any that show signs of spoilage).
If making refrigerator pickles (follow the steps in the recipe, but blanch the spears first and skip the canning part), they will keep for 3-4 months in the fridge.
You should refrigerate any leftover spears after opening the canned pickled asparagus.
Pickled And Canned Asparagus - Step By Step
- 20-21 qt. boiling water canner
- 7 pint or 12-oz canning jars
- 7 two-piece canning lids
- jar lifter
- large stock pot
- 10 to 12 pounds asparagus
- 7 large cloves garlic, cut in half
- 5 cups water
- 5 cups vinegar
- 5 tablespoons canning/pickling salt, or pure sea salt
- 4 tablespoons sugar (can adjust this to taste)
Optional additions per jar:
- 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 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 (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 to 18 months (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.
Looking for more easy preserving tutorials and recipes?
This tutorial was originally published in 2009, updated in 2017, and again in 2022.
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