Tuesday, May 12, 2009


When asparagus arrives in our gardens and at the farmer's markets, we know that spring has finally arrived. Here is Carla Emery's advice on how to handle this favorite spring vegetable.

excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Country Living
This perennial does well almost anywhere in Canada and in the United States as far south as southern Georgia. It likes cool temperatures during the growing season and winters that are cold enough to provide a dormant season. Asparagus dislikes extremely hot summers. Once it starts producing, it may live and fruit for 20 or more years. It literally shoots up overnight in my garden in the early spring, the second edible thing (multiplier onions are even earlier, radishes a shade later). On the other hand, it takes up considerable space and may be both difficult and slow to get started producing.

Preparing and Preserving
Wash and discard any tough bottoms. Get rid of the scales that cling tightly to the lower half of the spear. Just lift the tip of each with a paring knife and pull it off. Or use a potato peeler if you’re in a hurry. Get your asparagus from ground to preservation system or table as fast as possible for best taste. If you aren’t going to process or cook it right away, refrigerate it.

Choose firm young spears. Remove scales and toss into piles by size. Steam-blanch similar-sized stalks 2 to 4 minutes. Pack and freeze.

Dry right after picking. Wash, drain, and split 3-inch tips into lengthwise pieces. Or split the entire stalk lengthwise into halves. Or cut into 1⁄2 - inch slices. Blanch for 3 minutes in boiling water, or steam for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Asparagus must be dehydrated relatively quickly — in strong sunlight or a dehydrator. Use dried asparagus in soups and sauces or, after simmering 30 minutes, as a vegetable dish.

First wash asparagus and cut off any tough ends. If canning whole spears, place them upright in a pan with the water level just below the tender tips. Boil 3 minutes. For canned asparagus sections, cut spears into pieces about 1 inch long, and boil them for 2 to 3 minutes. Then pack either spears or pieces into clean jars. Optional: Add salt. Cover with boiling water. Leave 1 inch headspace. Process in a pressure canner only: 30 minutes for pints, 40 minutes for quarts. If using a weighted-gauge canner, set at 10 lb. pressure at 0–1,000 feet above sea level; at higher altitudes, set at 15 lb. If using a dial-gauge canner, set at 11 lb. pressure at 0–2,000 feet above sea level; 12 lb. at 2,001–4,000 feet; 13 lb. at 4,001–6,000 feet; 14 lb. at 6,001–8,000 feet; or 15 lb. above 8,000 feet.

Boiled Asparagus Add the tender tops after the stalks have boiled for 10 or 15 minutes, since they require less cooking. If you want to leave the stalks whole, stand them on end in the water so the tips are out; then lay them down as soon as the bottoms begin to get tender. Boiled asparagus is good served just with a little butter, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Or put a cream sauce on spears cooked whole, or cut into short pieces and serve on toast.

Asparagus Salad Drain boiled asparagus, chill, cut into pieces, arrange on lettuce leaves, and serve with French dressing.

Fried Asparagus Use only tender stalk tops. Precook until half-done. Tie stalks together, 5 or 6 to a bundle. Dip in beaten egg and then into flour. Fry in deep fat.

Asparagus Soup This is a good way to make use of tough ends. Cut about 1 lb. asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Cook with a little salt until tender in 1 qt. water. Make a white sauce by stirring 4 T. flour into 4 T. melted butter. Add to soup along with 1 beaten egg yolk and a dash of rich cream.

Ruth’s Vegan Asparagus “Steam instead of boiling; it’s much more flavorful. Drizzle with lemon juice while hot.”

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