Pickled Asparagus Spears, Putting Up

On Friday night I decided to stay in and can beets. Beets. Pickled beets.  Not a record breaker for the sexiest use of time.  I like the sound of ‘putting up’ though, an old-timey idiom.  A practice of preservation, and thrift.  (Again, not the sexiest thing I’ve said.  Let’s move on.)

I’m hoping to have beets for you soon, but for now I thought I’d bring up a much less labor-intensive recipe.  Pickled asparagus.  Adapted from Kevin West—Master Food Preserver—from his new book, Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving which comes out just in time for the start of summer.

To say I adapted the recipe is really not fair.  The original was titled Pickled Asparagus with Tarragon and Green Garlic.  Except I didn’t have tarragon.  Or green garlic.  Or the temperament to fuss with Ball jars and a hot water bath on a Monday night.

So really, this is a distant, distant relative to the original.  I still used asparagus (grown from my grandmother’s garden, imported by my dad a few weeks ago) and the same proportion of vinegar, salt, and sugar.  If that counts for something.

Never mind.  These pickles are a fresh spring stand-in for the classic Vlasic.  They’re sour, and crunchy, and have enough acid to let you know they’re a pickle.  They’d be a fabulous addition to a niçoise salad.

Or in a banh mi.  Or chopped up in one of those pasta salads with salami and tri-color rotini that scream summer cookout.  Or added to your favorite potato number, mayo-ed or otherwise.  Point is, they are doers, multi-taskers, pickled workhorses.

And since they cure in the refrigerator, they aren’t going to usurp a precious Friday night. The beets will be ready to taste this weekend.  And if their pickling liquid is any indication, they are going to be doozies, as well.

And so it shall be.  The summer of pickle.

Picked Asparagus Spears
Inspired by Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving by Kevin West


1½ pounds of asparagus
1½ cups white distilled vinegar
1½ cups water
1½ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp white peppercorns
½ tsp juniper berries
½ tsp fennel seed
½ tsp whole coriander
½ tsp mustard seed
3 springs oregano
2 garlic cloves


In a large pot, heat enough water to blanch the asparagus.  In a medium saucepan, add the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and spices (all except the garlic) and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, snap the bottom third end off each asparagus stalk by bending it until it breaks; discard the ends.  Prepare a bowl of ice water large enough to fit the asparagus.

Salt the boiling blanching water and place the asparagus in for 60-90 seconds, until pliable but still firm.  Remove the asparagus with tongs and place in ice water to halt the cooking.  Drain the asparagus and then pack the stalks in a jar(s).  I used one tall 32-ounce cylindrical Weck jar.  (If you have smaller jars you may need to trim the asparagus; you should do this prior to blanching.)  Place the garlic in between the spears. 

Pull out the oregano and bring the pickling liquid back to a boil; carefully ladle it over the asparagus.  Securely cover and chill in the refrigerator for a week before eating.

Makes about 20-30 pickled asparagus spears, depending on the size

-West has very detailed instructions for canning this and other pickled recipes, so be sure to check it out if pickles and putting up are your thing.

-West called for white-wine vinegar, which is smoother and his go-to vinegar when pickling.  I didn't have that either, so I used distilled white vinegar.  You could consider upping the sugar context if you will be pickling in your fridge and plan on using distilled white vinegar, to round out the flavor a bit.  

-Just a general word of caution: if you are planning on canning (ha!), you really don't want to mess with ingredients (particularly with the ratios of preservation ingredients, like salt, sugar, and vinegar).  Botulism is bad.


Rhubarb Yogurt Bread, Slice of Montreal

When my family used to travel, my mother would always pack a cooler of road snacks.  It contained all the usual suspects you’d expect from a lady who once gave her child a yogurt-filled Easter basket.  Baby carrots.  Grapes.  Nutri·Grain bars.  And some sort of homemade loaf or muffin, if we were lucky. 

On these trips, I got the sense that the kids in other vans were having way more fun, feeding each other Bubble Tape and licking their barbeque chip-flavored fingers.  But now I am very thankful for my mother—queen of quick breads—and her health habits.  And today I have this rhubarb yogurt loaf, a recipe from the mom files.  One of my favorites. 

I packed some for the car ride up to Montreal, for Dave’s birthday a few weeks ago.  And I am barely exaggerating when I say it was the only non-animal thing we had while we were up there.  Ever had a meat hangover?  Not pretty.  By day five I was picking the pepperoni off my pizza and fighting a case of reflux no amount of Tums could right.

But I had asked for it.  We took on Canadian eating as a sport.  Our trip was marked by the best food and drink I've had in a very, very long time. 

There were Aperol spritzers in a small, candlelit scotch den called Big in Japan.  Curried ribs at the Liverpool House, a seaside cottage meets old-timey club car establishment and sister restaurant to Joe Beef.  And a comforting bowl of celery root baked eggs with a side of chewy, butter-laced sourdough at Lawrence for brunch.

And a refreshing plate of seasonal vegetables (!) showcasing sea beans and the very last bottle of Tokaji Furmint Sec at Pullman bar à vin.  Christmas dinner of stuffed pig foot with foie gras and roast guinea hen atop cheese curd potatoes at Au Pied de Cochon.  A place known for all things excess.  Plus their sugar pie. 

And chèvre from Jac le Chevrier and spicy pork sausage sliced with a pocket knife, eaten standing up Atwater market.  Hot sesame bagels out of the wood-fired oven at St-Viateurschmeared with cream cheese and salmon. A few bites of Dave’s smoked meat sandwich with yellow mustard at Schwartz’s plus a big, thick pickle on small white plate.  (By this time I was getting pretty full.)

We finished with too many glasses of wine at Bocata with Malcolm, our personal wine guide thanks to a slow Monday night in Old Montreal.  Plus fried sea smelts with aioli and a haunting, simple appetizer of toasted bread topped with tomato and Iberico sliced at the bar.  (Let’s not mention the blueberry pastry from Olive + Gourmando for the ride home.)

It wasn’t until we were en route back to Boston with a cooler filled with foie gras, a hundred dollars worth of Canadian cheese, some sausage, and a few cases of Heady Topper from Vermont that I realized my mother’s habits had gone awry.

Luckily, I still have her rhubarb bread recipe.  Which I've eaten for breakfast on a few occasions since I’ve been back.  It’s nutty and chewy, with a slight tang from the lemon peel and rhubarb that stud it.  Cutting it into thick morning time slices feels nourishing, without being overly virtuous. A perfect compliment for the diet of sea creatures and plant-based edibles I’ve put myself on since I’ve been back.

Lest we not forget, rhubarb is actually a vegetable.

Rhubarb Yogurt Bread
Adapted from mom


1¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus 2 tbsp
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp coriander seeds, ground
1½ cups muscovado sugar
1 egg
½ cup canola oil
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
2 cups finely chopped rhubarb


Grease two loaf pans (I used a 7 x 3½ and 10 x 3½).  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift 1¾ cups all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and ground coriander into a medium bowl.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the sugar, egg, and oil until thoroughly combined (a minute or so).  Add in the yogurt, vanilla, and zest and mix until fully incorporated.  While the mixer is running, slowly add in the flour mixture and then turn off the mixer (it’s okay if you can still see bits flour). 

In a small bowl, toss the rhubarb pieces with the remaining 2 tbsp flour.  With a rubber spatula, mix in the rhubarb until fully incorporated and the flour is no longer visible, but take care not to over mix.

Pour into your greased pans and bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaves.  Let cool on a wire rack.

Makes “1 large loaf and 1 small loaf” per my mother

-I am fairly confident this bread can take even more rhubarb, if you have it.  The rhubarb melts into the bread and doesn’t overpower.

-I used dark muscovado sugar because I had it hanging around, though I do think I’d prefer light in this recipe.  The difference is minor—just a slightly darker color and hint of molasses. (The original calls for light brown sugar.)

-Mom is also a wee bit more health-conscious than her dietitian daughter, apparently.  She uses low fat yogurt and more whole wheat than white flour.  The lemon peel and coriander were my additions.  Because I can never leave well enough alone.


How to Feed Your Animal: No Leaven Left Behind

“I don’t care how good the bitch is, don’t let me keep any,” my mother said as she walked into the kitchen.

This was a few weeks ago.  The back story.  I had traveled home to Syracuse with two quart containers of sourdough starter, a scale, some rice flour to prevent sticking, and—what shall now be known as—my “travel” bench scraper. 

The starter? Destined for my brother, visiting from D.C.  The gang of baking oddities?  Tools for making sourdough when traveling.  My mother?  A woman who knows her weakness for bread.  And who—only in the right company—will curse for comedic emphasis.

The thing about starter is, well, to put it in unladylike motherly comedic terms: it’s a bitch.  When Dave brought some home from Canary Square, it came labeled as such.  Bitch. Written in block letters on a piece of masking tape.  A point quickly reinforced.

A starter requires daily feeding.  If you are not careful, you can overfeed it.  Which is what happened when I was home.  The bitch expanded, popped its top, oozed out of its container (so much that it tipped sideways), and covered an index card that had installation measurements for my mother’s new door. 

Hence her quote.  She has yet to get a dog, so she definitely isn’t going to be tied down by sourdough.  No matter how good.  

And it makes very good bread.  The recipe I use faithfully is from Tartine Bread, a cookbook from their San Francisco bakery.  Their country sourdough requires 8 to 10 hours start to finish and involves 15 pages of instructions.  (In fact, I am not going to write the instructions for fear of carpal tunnel.)  Instead, I have included a picture of the final product (starter itself isn’t going to win any beauty contests).  Suffice to say if you enjoy making bread, I highly recommend the book.

In the meantime, here are some tips for feeding a sourdough starter.  Which, it turns out, is a lot like the parenting you’d provide a small child (minus the bit about ‘nam).  Though you might want to think of a name other than bitch.  My brother started to refer to his as “Animal.”  Which is very appropriate.  Brother, this is for you.

How to Feed Your Starter Your Animal:

Replace what you take. 
To feed your animal (which I keep in a plastic quart container), remove about a third of the starter and replace it with roughly the same amount of a mixture of flour and water (about 60/40, respectively).

Use what you have.
No need to feed with bread flour, AP will do.  Or use bread flour, if that's what is around.  Whatever.

If you don’t feed it, it will die.
Starter becomes cultured with wild yeast and bacteria.  These things need food.  If they don't get food, starter will die.  The end. (You should feed the starter once a day, if kept out at room temperature.)

Mistakes will be made.
It’s pretty hard to kill a starter, unless you utterly neglect it.  A healthy one will double in volume after a feeding.  If yours doesn’t perform this parlor trick, it may not be strong enough to raise bread.  Try taking out more of your starter, and feed it again with more flour and water.  When it floats in warm water, it is ready for bread making.

This is like ‘nam.  There are no rules.
Trust your instincts. Does your starter seem a little wet?  (It should resemble a loose dough.)  Add a bit more flour.  Traveling from Boston to Syracuse?  Best to slightly underfeed it, so the starter does not crawl out of your bag and all over your car. 

Plan ahead.
If you will not be regularly baking bread, keep it in the fridge and feed it about once a week.  Remove the starter two days before you intend to use it.  Feed it once or twice a day, so it gains strength.  And be sure to feed it about 8 hours before you plan to use it.  It’s like training for a sports event.  Properly hydrate and eat enough carbs.  (If I don't have time to bake bread, I'll take the starter out and let it come to room temperature before feeding it.  After that leave it out and feed it daily or put it back in the fridge.)

-The starter you use in a bread recipe is called a leaven.  It naturally raises your dough.  There are detailed instructions for making your own starter culture in the book.  You can also always make a new friend with someone that has a starter.  I had a generous boyfriend.

-These instructions work well for my Boston-grown, Canary Square-birthed starter.  (It’s coming from a persevering place, fueled by good beer.) I don't always get a chance to make bread regularly, so I've adapted my instructions as such.  Dive right in and experiment.

-I have nothing but love for this starter, despite its moniker.

-It seems Martha has published Tartine’s recipe.

-A special shout-out to the Quicks, whose baby bun is no longer in the oven.  May she have many good loaves in her future.  Lots of love, new family of three.