Tender tips for asparagus

Asparagus is one of the earliest crops in Michigan. Learn why asparagus is good for you and tips for storage, preparation and preservation.

One sure sign of spring in Michigan is the emergence of asparagus into the local markets. Asparagus is one of the earliest crops available for harvest in Michigan, and this year’s early spring has caused it to develop even faster than its typical May to June harvest window. Asparagus is a member of the lily family and grows from a crown that is planted about one foot deep in a sandy soil. Michigan ranks third in asparagus production across the nation with an average yield of 25 million pounds each year.

Asparagus is a low-fat and low-calorie vegetable. According to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, Asparagus is a good source of potassium and folic acid as well as a significant source of vitamin B6 and thiamin.

For best flavor, select asparagus that have bright green stems with closed, compact firm tips. Place asparagus in the refrigerator in a container of water with the ends of the stems in the water and use as soon as possible for best quality. There is no difference between thin and thick stems as an indication of tenderness. But, select either thin or thick for preparing to ensure uniform cooking.

Always wash asparagus with cool water prior to consumption. Trim the asparagus about an inch away from the base or snap the ends off to remove the woody section. The tender portion will naturally separate from the tougher section when snapping.

Asparagus is a simple vegetable to prepare but the key is to cook it to crisp tender because it has a more desirable texture and taste when not cooked to softness. Asparagus is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, stir-fried or grilled. It can also be simply sautéed with olive oil, pepper and dried thyme. If you would like to try a melody of spring vegetables, try this recipe.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends freezing asparagus for optimal results or pressure canning due to the low acidity of asparagus. When freezing, it is important to select young, tender stalks. Wash thoroughly and discard any tough portions of stalks. Blanch in boiling water for three minutes for medium spears. Cool promptly in cold water, drain and pat dry. Pack in freezer containers with no headspace; seal, label and freeze. If you are interested in canning the asparagus, pressure canning is the only safe method. For more information on how to safely can asparagus, use a research-based resource like the National Center for Home Food Preservation or the United States Department of Agriculture’s Guide to Home Canning.

Taking advantage of locally-grown produce during their time of peak freshness is a great way to enjoy low-cost fruit and vegetables as well as preserve them for later. Get a jump start on your food preservation plans for the summer by freezing delicious asparagus that can be enjoyed throughout the entire year.

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