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Posts Tagged ‘pickled asparagus’

There are few things in life that I adore more than a surprise.  I actually like the feeling of being surprised more than the content of the surprise myself.  Those who have been reading for a while may recall the story of one of my most favourite servers in the world, Heather, who would regularly serve me my favourite beer in the world which was anything but Coor’s Light.  It wouldn’t matter what was served, I simply adored the surprise.

We receive a number of comments at WellPreserved – many more come through direct messages on our Twitter feed or through our email.  Each time a new one comes in, I get excited.  A surprise message from someone with a comment, a question and the odd complaint.  We love them all and your comments really are a giant reason of why we pursue this hobby so passionately.  We also want to ensure we provide you with a reason to visit and a reason to come back.

We received a kind message from a Mom and Three Boys (check out this neat blog of a busy family of 5 – I have no idea how Mom has time to blog but) love the optimism that is apparent in her posts).  She kindly pointed out that we made it difficult to learn how to make the pickled asparagus mentioned yesterday.  This has really got us talking and thinking and we’re working on something to really make these recipes much easier to follow (without repeating how to sterilize jars and how to seal them 50 times).  In the meantime, I thought we’d share a bit more detail.

If you are looking for more detail than what we have in this post, pop bye the preserving page and the step-by-step case study will help you out.  If you can’t figure it out from there, pop us an email and we’ll fill in the blanks.

Get your ingredients ready and get a few pots on the stove.  One has to be full enough to submerge clean jars under boiling water to sterilize them in boiling water, another for new seals and rings (you don’t want them actively boiling – bring that pot to a boil and dump the seals in and turn off heat at last minute), get the pressure steamer going (if you have one – some argue it isn’t needed, especially with pickled items because of the acidity) and a final pot of the pickling brine.  If this sounds complicated, stay with us and read the following and it should start to come together:

  1. Mix a 50-50 batch of white vinegar and water.  We are fans of using distilled water and pickling vinegar (you can buy 4L jars of the stuff and it’s 7% acidity as compared to the normal 5% – you need a minimum of 5% and if it’s not market, skip it).  We used 2L of each for our 5 jars (750ml) of asparagus.  You want to bring this to a boil and leave at a steady simmer before jarring.

  1. Pre-cut your ingredients.  Asparagus deteriorates the most in it’s first 24 hours so use the freshest you can.  Clean it well – dirt is an enemy.  Cut it such that it will stand about .75 inches from the top of the jar – you want to leave room for headspace and asparagus will expand when it cooks in the preserving process).
  2. We pre-cut our other ingredients and put loose items (such as sugar and salt) into wide-mouth glasses that can be poured into the jars quickly.  Once you start filling a jar you want to move fast.  Our ingredients included:
    1. 5 or 6 pearl onions (we placed about 3 halves in each jar)
    2. A few bulbs of fresh garlic (we used about 2 or 3 large bulbs, halved in our jars)
    3. Some dried chilis – we used 2-4 in each jar.
    4. 1 tablespoon of pickling salt per jar.  Pickling salt is important because it stop discolouration of your brine and, thus, your pickles.  The grocery store has this as well.
    5. 1 tablespoon of sugar per jar – your choice of type.  White will maintain sweetness while brown will add a bit of flavour (and discolour your brine slightly).
    6. 1 tablespoon of mustard seed per jar.  Your choice as ling as it is dried – we used black and yellow.
    7. 2 teaspoons of dill seed per jar.
  3. Boil your jars to sterilize.  Pull them out of the water (one at a time) and throw in all of the dry ingredients into a jar.  Stuff tight with asparagus (this helps stop them from floating to the top).  Try not to touch the rim as you need to keep this sterile.  We put the asparagus in tip-first as it makes it easier to pack the final ones in tightly – pushing the thin tops is very difficult).
  4. Use a food funnel to fill the jars, leave about 1/2 inch head-space – all the asparagus should be covered.
  5. Use a food magnet to place a sterile lid from the boiling water on top of the jar.
  6. Twist a ring seal on top of the lid and place the jar in the steamer (everything should still be hot so use care).
  7. Finish the rest of the jars and seal – we use a pressure cooker to steam seal them (10 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure).
  8. Let the pressure cooker cool down, remove the jars and place on racks to cool down.
  9. Place away for 6 weeks+ for pickles – most of ours will be stored until a minimum of 4 or 5 months.

Cleanliness and measurements are extremely important as are using a tested recipe (do not invent your own).  There is a lot of complex science going on here, despite the insistence of all of our Grandmothers. We cook and serve all of these recipes to our friends and families and we believe they are safe to do so.  Ultimately do your own research and ensure you protect yourself and those you love.

Steps 1-3 are particular to this recipe, the others are fairly generic to all preserves and pickles.  I highly advise you read our preserving section in full for more info and use some trusted sources such as the incomparable Joy of Cooking (though their website does not have enough detail to help you determine the basics)

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It’s been a very, very busy 6 months in my life.  I have traveled to Scotland, England, Atlanta, Phoenix, Richmond, Salt Lake City and more.  I have launched new programs at work and stayed as busy at ever at home.  We’ve had a busy spring and taken a few pleasure trips already – made it to Eigensinn Farm, twice to Prince Edward County and up to the hunt camp in Huntsville.

We also started a blog.  🙂  Thank you to those who have been reading – today is the 6-month anniversary and we had out 10,000th visit this weekend.  We have posted more than 200 articles, learned more about food than we thought we knew previously, debated what the purpose of this whole experience is about and met some amazing friends.  We still have no ideas where all of this goes – it went from concept to launch in a few hours (while I slept) and we have updated it every day since December 28th.  It’s been a lot of fun.

I expected we would have been preserving far earlier than now – life happens and we’re a bit behind where I’d like but there’s lots of time left to preserve our local goodness (while we got to eat fiddleheads, we weren’t able to pickle any this year).

Pickled asparagus was on the menu today.  The young lady at the St. Lawrence Market snapped her neck back when I informed her I had selected 25 bundles of Ontario Asparagus ($25).  While it was fresh (it had been harvested on Thursday and I bought it on Saturday), we we gave it a big long sweet-water bath to bring it back to succulence.  The flavor difference was easy to discern.

We then began the process – cutting the asparagus down to size, measuring out mustard, dill, chillies, dill seed, garlic, onion and broth was followed by sterilizing the jars, packing them tight and a quick run through the pressure cooker.

Our yield was 5 jars (750 ml) and more than 200 stalks of pickled goodness.  These will be best near Christmas (a jar will definitely be served at our annual fete) and we are most excited to hear the popping of lids.  Enjoy a photo-journey of our afternoon (the process took about 3 hours as I’m a bit out of practice):

Full details of how to make this have since been posted – check out our pickled asparagus recipe here.

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I have so much respect for those who work so hard creating food for our tables.  My brief insight into the lives of farmers, fishermen (and women) and those who support them is one that leaves me doubting that I do what they do.  long hours, unpredictable yields and pricing are made more complicated by expensive technology, competing needs (such as real estate) for their land and feast or famine years.  Their numbers are dwindling and the family farm is something that is scarce and declining and something that I hope to inspire others to support.

I had the absolute privilege of briefly meeting John Jaques and family from Thamesville, Ontario this weekend.  Thamesville is north of the 401 between London and Windsor.  Their family farm goes by the moniker Sunshine Farms and specializes in asparagus.  The family-owned farm continues to be worked by John, his wife Claudia and their sons (Josh, Ben and Adrian).  They offer standard vegetables in addition to a line of certified organic produce.  They are super friendly and most excited about what they are doing.

John was exhibiting at the Good Food show and market featuring the farms 24 different types of pickled vegetables.  His Zesty Asparagus was nominated and competing (and, in my opinion) should win a best in show prize.  They are picked from the field by hand, individually (hand) loaded into jars and turned into a wonderfully crunchy, somewhat spicy, dill-infused piece of heaven.

We bought 5 jars of product from Sunshine Farms and the ingredient list reads just like the carrots below.  There are no preservatives, no chemicals and feature ingredients you likely have in your own home.  This is the closest thing to making your own pickles that you can get without actually making the pickles.

The results are wonderful and taste as good as they look:

 

One of the things I really admire about Sunshine Farms is that they aren’t scared to make products that they clearly like.  Their are many spicy and zesty lines that may scare some people away and have the rest of us lining up.  You get the sense that the products are made the way that they believe it should be – as opposed to making a product based on what they think people will buy.  This integrity is transparent in their food and makes me feel good enjoying it.  I don’t feel as though I’m eating a product – rather I feel like I am sharing their family recipe of pickles and this makes the experience much more similar to tasting pickles from a friend as opposed to factory.

This is truly food that is made by hand and heart.  Go out of your way to Support Sunshine Farms and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a wonderful treat that you’ll be proud to share.

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