There are so many benefits to fermenting food! Because you don’t have to heat vegetables before you ferment them, they keep all their healthy enzymes. Not only that, but the process of fermentation actually increases a vegetable’s nutritional value! Fermented foods also offer a healthy dose of lactobacilli, which are the probiotic bacteria that your gut and nervous system need to function properly. One half-cup serving of fermented vegetables has more live, healthy probiotics than even the best store-bought probiotic pills, and at the same time you’re reaping the benefits of the minerals and vitamins in the vegetables (here’s an article with more information about fermented foods).
Crisp, tangy pickled asparagus are a great way to fall in love with fermented food. You don’t need any special equipment to make these, just a jar with a lid (you could use a fermenting lid, or just open the jar once a day to prevent air from building up). There’s no vinegar needed for these pickles, as the fermentation process creates its own vinegar. You just need some fresh, organic asparagus and a brine made with sea salt and chlorine-free water. If you’d like, you can add some dill and fresh garlic to give them more flavor.
To make the pickles, just snap the woody ends off the asparagus (they’ll naturally break in the right place). Then pack them into a clean quart-and-a-half jars, which are taller than regular quart jars and fit asparagus spears perfectly. You can use quart jars, but you’ll have to trim the asparagus to fit. If you are using dill and garlic, add that in with the asparagus spears…I find that garlic will flavor pickles much more effectively if you slice or crush it first. Pour about a quarter cup of whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice, or liquid from another ferment into the jar (whey is the liquid that collects on the top of yogurt when it separates). Then, fill the rest of the jar with brine. Let it sit at room temperature for 4 to 7 days, depending on how tangy you like your pickles. Then, pop the jars in the fridge…they will keep there for up to a year. I have found that the flavor of naturally fermented pickles is best after a month in the fridge (if I can get them to last that long…they usually get eaten in less than a week).
- Fresh organic asparagus spears (one pound makes about a quart of pickles)
- Sea Salt (2 Tablespoons per quart)
- Filtered or Spring water (no chlorine, 4 cups per quart...you'll have some left over)
- Whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or liquid from a previous ferment, 1/4 cup per quart of pickles (you can omit this if you don't have it)
- Fresh organic garlic (optional, 2 or 3 cloves per quart)
- Fresh organic dill (optional)
- other possible additions (per quart): a few slices of hot pepper, 2 teaspoons organic pickling spice
- Wash your jars well (the dishwasher's hottest setting is a great way to do this).
- Wash the asparagus and snap off the woody ends. If you are using dill, wash it and set aside. Peel and slice the garlic, if using.
- Make the brine: for every 4 cups of water, mix in 2 Tablespoons of salt and stir until it's completely dissolved.
- If you're using garlic, dill, etc., place it in the bottom of your jars. Pack the asparagus spears in tightly, leaving at least 1/2 inch of headspace in the jar.
- Pour in 1/4 cup of whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice, or liquid from a previous ferment. You can also ferment the asparagus without adding a starter, if you don't have one. The natural yeast and bacteria on the asparagus will get the process going, although I like to give it a boost with an existing strain when possible.
- Pour the brine over the asparagus, making sure that all of the asparagus is submerged. Leave a little space at the top of the jar.
- Screw lids on the jars, and set them in a place where they will be out of direct sunlight and where they will remain at a fairly even room temperature. Let them sit for at least 4 days and up to 7 days, opening the jar lids once a day to let gas escape. The longer they stay at room temperature, the tangier the pickles will be. Taste them after 4 days and decide how long you'd like them to ferment.
- When you are satisfied with the flavor, put the jars in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to a year when refrigerated. The pickles will reach peak flavor after a month in the fridge (but they rarely last that long at my house).
- You can use quart jars, quart-and-a-half jars (which fit asparagus better), or half-gallon jars to make these pickles.