Opening the last jar is a letting go, an act of trust that soon I will enjoy plenty again.
When I was a little girl, several times each May my mother would send me out to the asparagus patch with a paring knife in search of a handful for dinner. The purple-green spears played an excellent game of hide-and-seek, the spindly ones blending with their background, the new short fat ones hiding under the dried leaf mulch. I hopped barefoot through the bed, crouching down to slice off each prize.
Yesterday I visited the patch to see if any asparagus had popped up yet.
The ground was bare.
Even so, I opened the last jar of my special pickled asparagus last weekend. We were invited to dinner to meet new friends and catch up with old ones, and to me, that is something worth celebrating. Our kids played outside and rode horses on one of the first really pleasant days this year, and it was lovely.
That jar of asparagus had been hanging out alone in the pantry for a while, its friends all gone by December. Its brute 1-gallon size stood out from the half-pints of jam and quarts of tomatoes, taunting me whenever I saw it on the shelf, knowing that spring was far away before I could make more.
It was a long winter.
Today spring is all around me, but not quite a reality yet. Asparagus paired with morel mushrooms is much more a harbinger of spring for me than any red-breasted robin, and the days and nights aren’t quite warm enough for that yet. But they will be soon.
In the meantime I am keeping myself busy, planting lettuce and pea seeds and buying chicks and wondering if I can maybe venture into lambs this year. There is joy in the waiting, if I choose to see it. If I seek it out.
This Pickled Asparagus recipe from Barbara Norconk appeared in the Spring 2012 of Edible Grande Traverse Magazine, and I purchase the asparagus in bulk from Norconk's asparagus farm in Empire, MI, each year. Check out both of these excellent businesses if you have the chance.
Norconks' Pickled Asparagus
Makes 6 half-gallon jars
8 cups apple cider vinegar
8 cups water
4 tablespoons canning salt
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon poppy seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon caraway seed
18 sprigs of fresh dillweed (or 6 tablespoons dried dill)
3 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved (seeded for less heat)
12 cloves garlic, peeled
Sterilize 6 clean, large-mouthed, half-gallon jars (or 12 quart jars) by rinsing in boiling water. Sterilize lids and rings the same way. Set aside.
Clean asparagus by swishing, tips down, in warm water for 15 seconds. This will cause the tips to open slightly so sand will fall out. Rinse whole spears a second time in clean warm water. Place on dishtowels to drain.
Make the brine by mixing vinegar, water and salt in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium.
While brine is coming to a boil, place asparagus spears in jars as tightly as possible, up to one inch from top. (Spears will shrink slightly as they pickle.) In a small bowl, mix the mustard, poppy, fennel, celery and caraway seeds.
To each half-gallon jar of asparagus add 1 tablespoon of the dry spices, 3 sprigs of fresh dill, 1 jalapeno half and 2 cloves of garlic. Carefully pour hot brine into jars to within ¾ inch of the top. Place lid and ring on top and seal. Place jars in a large pot of simmering water for 10 minutes. Remove and set on a wooden board or dishtowel to cool. Jar lids should seal as brine cools. Asparagus will be ready to eat in 2–3 weeks, and should remain good for a year.