Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Balsamic Pickled Asparagus

I know, this is rather late in the season for asparagus, but think of it as being prepared for next spring! I made these on the same day that I canned all my marmalades, but for some reason I never got around to posting about it.

Asparagus seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" veggies. For some people, its more of a "love it now, hate it later" veg. Don't ask why. It's awkward. Me, I'm a "love it now, pretend I don't mind later" gal. True to my current (but slightly less fervent, thanks to impatience) commitment to preserving foods in season, I decided to see if there was a way to preserve asparagus during the brief time that it enters the "reasonably affordable" stage. Asparagus out of season is crazy expensive!

Since asparagus is a low-acid food and I don't have a pressure canner, the only way I was going to be able to can them is by making pickles or jelly. Asparagus jelly doesn't sound particularly appealing. Pickles it is!

Whilst perusing the interwebz, I found this recipe from My Pantry Shelf. A pickled asparagus recipe that calls for lemons? How convenient! I just happened to be inundated with lemons! Plus, the jars looked gorgeous with the bright green asparagus and perky yellow lemons. This I gotta try!

Right about now, you might be wondering why my pictures look nothing like those for the original recipe. I'll tell ya why. I did a no-no. I changed a canning recipe. This is Cardinal Rule #1 in canning land. You're supposed to ONLY use USDA approved recipes, and NEVER alter them. Don't get me wrong, there is a real science to preserving food to make it safe, especially when using the water bath canning method. BUT, we're talking pickles right now. Pickles rely on large quantities of vinegar to acidify the recipe, making it impossible for botulism spores to grow.

The only change I made to the recipe was to sub some balsamic vinegar for the white vinegar. I did this because I'm not actually a big fan of pickles. Oh I like them every once in a while, but most homemade pickles have disinterested me. I decided that if I was going to go through the trouble of canning up asparagus, I needed to make it something I would actually eat (not to mention something worth using asparagus instead of cukes). Balsamic vinegar goes fabulously with asparagus. It also happens to be my favorite cooking vinegar, and you'll (hopefully) be seeing several other recipes on here that feature it.

Why do I feel the alteration was safe? Because Rule #1 in pickling is do NOT monkey with the acidity level. My white vinegar has a 5% acidity level. According to my bottle of balsamic, it has an acidity level of 6%. Instead of lowering the acidity, the switch would actually INCREASE it. So that's why I didn't feel bad about changing the recipe. I've eaten 2.5 of the jars (by myself, thankyouverymuch) in the two months since I made them, and so far there are no signs of spoilage or off-flavors.

The one down side, of course, is the dark balsamic ruins the beautiful lemon-asparagus look of the jars. I don't mind too much. I'd rather have ugly food that tastes amazing, than have a shelf full of pretty doorstops.

Ok, on to the recipe! Since my modification is so minor, I'm only going to give you my ingredient list and then send you back to the original post for canning instructions. That, and I'm too lazy to type it all up. I need to do something about that.

Balsamic Pickled Asparagus

3lbs asparagus
1 1/2c distilled white vinegar
1c balsamic vinegar (make sure it's at least 5% acidity)
2 1/2c water
2 1/2 tsp pickling salt (I used kosher sea salt)
3 tsp mustard seed
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, sliced

See My Pantry Shelf for canning instructions. I had plenty of extra pickling liquid after filling up the jars of spear tips, so for kicks I filled a jar with the trimmed asparagus ends. Not the woody parts, although I plan to try them out too, but the fresh bits that were sacrificed so the tips would fit. I have to say, they were every bit as good as the tips, if not as pretty. I'll definitely do that again, as wasting good asparagus is just plan wrong.

 I recommend letting these sit for at least two weeks to mellow. The first jar I opened was kick-your-rear strong in the vinegar department. Two months later they are nice and gently tangy. These would be great on a crudite tray, or wrapped in salami as an appetizer. Or, y'know, eaten straight from the jar, as I like 'em.


  1. I love it - pretty door stops!
    Looks great even without clear vinegars and taste really is what it's all about anyway.
    Going to pick up some asparagus today (the really high priced variety) so might give this a try. Never canned asparagus before as it gets eaten too fast!

  2. Asparagus goes fast around here, too! It takes a good sale for me to buy more than we'll eat in a meal or two. I look forward to living somewhere that I can grow my own patch.

    Asparagus really makes a great pickle, I hope you get a chance to give it a try!