I teach people how to map rocks, and I think we all agree that it's almost impossible to do that without some actual rocks, like outside and stuff.
Small hurdle: Iowa has little in the way of diverse outside rocks that are useful for learning to map.
So we go to the rocks. Montana - the rocks, they are spectacular, don't get me wrong, but they are also 22 hours' drive away. In a convoy with 8 suburbans and lots of college students.
The other problem with going to the rocks is that it happens to coincide with the first joyous explosion of fresh and local produce, notably the ephemeral asparagus season. Fat and stumpy, thin and willowy, dark green or purple-shot spears, when the asparagus arrives it is everywhere.
Everywhere, that is, except in my garden. My own asparagus patch, now going on year two, looks a lot like someone dropped a couple green toothpicks that stuck in the ground. Apparently, growing asparagus is only for those people with the patience of a saint. That most definitely wasn't in the catalogue description.
I do my best to eat as much asparagus as possible while I am at home, before the long drive out and 3 weeks of dormitory food. University of Montana Western - which is, for dorm food, pretty darned good, really, especially the all-you-can-eat, soft-serve ice cream bar. That guarantees I come home a few pounds heavier than I start every year. Though I like to think it's all muscle, I suspect the marshmallow and fudge sauces and crumbled oreos on vanilla soft serve may have a little impact. I swear, they must put crack in that marshmallow sauce, it's so good in a hate-to-love-it way.
Though the main avalanche of asparagus season is past, I've returned in time to just catch the tail edge, and I've found some beautiful, lance-like sturdy spears with their tight budded tips. Store them in the refrigerator like flowers, with the cut end in water, until ready to use.
My starting point was Paul Virant's recipe for pickled asparagus from The Preservation Kitchen. (I have some of his strawberry jams lined up for making over the next few days, and am very excited about them.) I have modified the recipe to be a quick refrigerator pickle, and also to be on jar-by-jar basis.
So, if you want one jar, you can make one jar. If you can lay your hands on a windfall of asparagus this late in the game and want 10 jars, just scale up. I used a 12 ounce jar to maximize the length of the asparagus spears, which I trimmed to 4 inches long (10 cm) so that the tip of every spear was roughly one inch below the rim of the jar. Coincidentally, this is the perfect length to serve as a swizzle stick in a Bloody Mary - how about a Bacon Vodka Bloody Mary with a pickled asparagus swizzle stick?
For each jar of pickled asparagus, you will need:
1/2 pound asparagus - I prefer using thick spears to pickle
For each jar of the pickle, you will need:
1/2 cup vinegar - cider or white wine
1/4 cup water
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1/3 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8 teaspoon dried celery seed
a pinch of red pepper flakes
You will also need a sterilized 12 ounce canning jar for each 1/2 pound of asparagus.
Trim the asparagus to about 4 inches (10 cm) long to fit into a 12 ounce jar. You should have about 0.4 pounds of asparagus left. Don't throw those trimmings out - toss them into a stir-fry or make soup with them - they're still mighty tasty.
Choose a pot that your total brine amount will fit into easily. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in the pot and bring to a boil, then keep hot until needed.
Put the dried dill, celery seed and pepper flakes in the bottom of a clean and sterilized 12 ounce canning jar.
In a wide, shallow pan such as a frying pan, bring about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of lightly salted water to a boil. When boiling, add the trimmed asparagus and blanch for one minute. Remove the asparagus, drain for a few seconds on a towel, and pack into the jar tightly, cut end towards the bottom and spears pointed up. You may need to turn a few upside down to maximize closest packing.
Pour the hot brine over the asparagus, making sure to cover by about 1/2 inch (about 1 cm). Because this is a refrigerator pickle, there is no need to use proper jar headspace.
Let cool on the counter and put on a coated metal or plastic lid that the vinegar will not react with, then store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Do note - you want those asparagus spears packed in there pretty tightly, and depending on how you squeeze them in, you may have some left over pickle brine.