Tips for Michigan asparagus

Asparagus are one of the first Michigan crops headed to market this spring. Be prepared to preserve them with these tips.

With the greening of grass and other signs of spring, one of the first Michigan crops to come to market is asparagus. Fresh asparagus is harvested in Michigan in April, May and June. Be prepared to enjoy one of nature’s best vegetables all year long by planning ahead to preserve it.

Once harvested, preserve or cook asparagus within one to three days, or it will quickly lose its quality. To assure freshness, the stalks should be firm and eyes tight to the stalks. If the stalks are shriveled, vitamins, taste and texture may be lost.

To store asparagus, put a moist paper towel at the base of the bunch, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Do not wash it until you are ready to prepare. Keep this and all fresh produce away from meat, poultry and seafood products, and make sure to wash hands before and after handling. Rinse in cool running water, checking tips for sand by dunking in and out of water and rinsing well. Do not use soap! Trim off any tough ends remembering the entire stalk is edible. Be careful to not overcook asparagus, it should be “fork tender.”

Frozen asparagus will retain both color and flavor better than canned asparagus. Select young, tender stalks with compact tips. Wash thoroughly and sort according to thickness of the stalk. Cut off and discard any tough portions. Leave spears in lengths to fit the package or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch in boiling water for two minutes for small spears, three minutes for medium spears and four minutes for large spears. Cool promptly in ice water for the same length of time you blanched. Change the blanching and cooling water as it becomes discolored or as the ice melts. Before packaging asparagus, pat dry with paper toweling to remove excess water. Pack the cooled asparagus into freezer containers or bags, leaving no headspace. You can also place the blanched, cooled individual spears on a tray in the freezer, once frozen, package in freezer bags or containers for a tender crisp product when cooking. Remember to space these items out in the freezer before stacking to ensure uniform freezing.

There are many ways to prepare your frozen asparagus, remember timing is everything. If it steams, fries, boils, broils, or grills to long it will become mushy. It only takes a few minutes to heat it through and savor the flavor.

Canned asparagus must be pressure canned due to its low acid content. Young, tender, tight-tipped spears are ideal for canning. Wash and trim off tight scales. Leave in spears or cut into 1-inch pieces. Asparagus can be raw packed, by placing into jars, filling jars with hot water, removing air bubbles and placing lids on jars. They are then processed in a dial-gauge pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure (30 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts) or at 10 pounds of pressure in a weighted-gauge pressure canner, for the same length of time. They can also be hot packed, by boiling the asparagus for 2 to 3 minutes, then placing the spears into hot jars. Boiling cooking liquid or water is added to the jars, air bubbles are removed, lids and rings are put on the jars and the jars are put into the pressure canner. Process the same way and for the same time as raw pack.

Michigan State University Extension encourages you to enjoy the short, but delicious, season of asparagus. To learn more about asparagus, including recipes, visit Michigan Asparagus.

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