Saturday, July 11, 2015

BEACH ASPARAGUS

BEACH ASPARAGUS (Salicornia virginica)
is a dream come true in the wild world of vegetables. This wild perennial is unusually delicious and super charged with nutrients! 




There are several other names for beach asparagus including sea asparagus, samphire, glasswort and pickleweed.


If you would like to harvest your own beach asparagus, start looking at the top of saltwater beaches in protected bays as early as mid-June. Most summers beach asparagus is prime for harvesting from the end of June through early August. This is how beach asparagus looks at its absolute best!






In the photo below, the beach asparagus top on the left is prime for harvesting. On the right, notice a little bit of red with tiny flower petals at the top indicating that it is beginning to mature and flower. Beach asparagus is still edible as it matures. It just grows less and less tender. 






You will often see beach asparagus in small patches on beaches here and there. In some locations, like the one below, beach asparagus looks like a big, beautiful lawn! 






Our method of harvesting is to slip a freshly laundered pillowcase inside a clean, five gallon bucket. Grab a handful of beach asparagus tops in one hand. With the other hand, carefully slice off the beach asparagus about an inch above the ground with a sharp serrated knife. My cherished dog, Ru, loved snacking on beach asparagus on these outings.
                                                                                                                                  photo by Hope Merritt





Just like our home gardens, nature's gardens have plenty of weeds! Pick out any weeds or grass you see before tossing each handful into the pillowcase. 



Same as when you mow a lawn, beach asparagus will regrow its height several weeks later. Do not pull out the roots! Remember, beach asparagus is a perennial. Leave the roots of beach asparagus in place and the plants will be growing right there for you again next year!




An enjoyable day with a truly remarkable wild harvesting friend.




When harvesting beach asparagus, it is not a bad idea to make a lot of noise, have bear spray handy and holster a gun. It is, after all, bear territory. These young bears are busy flipping stones at low tide and snacking on the little crabs they find underneath. From our skiff, we could clearly hear the crunching sound!









SO, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO 
WITH LOTS OF BEACH ASPARAGUS? 

I know what I want to do with my beach asparagus. Let's have a look!

First, let's rinse the beach asparagus really well in cold tap water. Drain well. Fresh beach asparagus will store nicely for two weeks or more in a container in a refrigerator. 

If, like us, you have more than you can possibly eat in those two weeks, best to process the bulk of it somehow as soon as possible. We love beach asparagus, so we harvested lots of it when we found some at its prime.








  LET'S TALK ABOUT EATING IT FRESH FIRST 
  Here are a few suggestions:




- You can simply munch on it, as is, for a snack.

- Add beach asparagus to smoothies or green drinks.

- Add it when juicing vegetables.

- Add beach asparagus to a stir fry.

- Saute it alone or with other veggies for use as a side dish.

- Chop and add it to whatever you are mixing together

for a sandwich spread. We had some leftover chicken from

a roast. So I did the following:


Cubed the chicken.

Chopped a cup of beach asparagus as if it were chives.

Crumbled a handful of cashews.

Sprinkled in a heaping teaspoon of curry powder.





Stir it all together with a little mayonnaise. Fill your favorite bread or bun along with some fresh tomato and lettuce.




- When baking fish, first layer fresh beach asparagus in the
   bottom of the pan. Place the fish on the bed of beach
   asparagus and bake as usual. Or, stuff the fish cavity with
   the fresh beach asparagus before baking.





- Chop beach asparagus and sprinkle it on a salad.





- Beach asparagus is truly delicious chopped up and added to
   any egg dish.      

Here is an example:
Chop up a large onion or leek and saute in a little olive oil until caramelized. This is a 10" fry pan.



Chop up about two cups of fresh beach asparagus.



Beat six eggs and mix the chopped beach asparagus in with the eggs. If you happen to have any fresh crab or shrimp handy, add that into the egg mix now too!



Pour the mixture into the pan on top of the cooked onion. Do not stir. Cook it on medium heat for a few minutes until it pulls away from the sides of the pan a little bit.



Remove from heat.  Slice up some cheese and decorate the top. Medium cheddar was used here.



Place the pan on the rack just below center in your oven and turn the oven on to broil. Keep the oven door open a pinch so you can keep your eye on the egg dish.



It is ready when the top cheese looks bubbly, browned and delicious. Remove and let it cool a few minutes before you serve it. This amount should be plenty for four people.







Let's look at the underside:










Ready to eat. Bon Appetit!










       PRESERVING BEACH ASPARAGUS 


      - POWDERED BEACH ASPARAGUS -
It takes quite a bit of beach asparagus to convert it into a salt substitute or powder. As with most fresh vegetables, the water content is pretty high. We took a five gallon bucket of fresh beach asparagus and dehydrated it in our large dehydrator spreading it over the 14 stainless shelves. The temperature was set to 115 degrees. After about 24 hours, the beach asparagus looked like little dark, brittle twigs. Taking about a cup or two of the twigs at a time, the dried beach asparagus was pulsed and blended into a fine salt in the blender. We used our powerful Vitamix Vita Prep 3... but any blender will do. The end product was a two quart jar full of powdered beach asparagus. It has lasted us over a year. The powdered beach asparagus sits on the table in a salt shaker for every day use.



The remainder of the two quart jar was shared with others and also added to everything we cooked or baked in place of salt. Even though the color is different, green, beach asparagus powder tastes nearly the same as common table salt! Better yet, it is loaded with nutrients!





        - PICKLED BEACH ASPARAGUS -
There is no describing how delicious this is! Everyone in our family has always been fond of garlic dill pickles. That is the flavor I have tried to capture when pickling beach asparagus. I think I have succeeded now that we have dill and garlic growing in abundance in our own gardens. Whatever it takes!
We love stuffing pickled beach asparagus into just about every kind of hot or cold sandwich. Crock pot cooked deer meat with barbecue sauce and pickled beach asparagus makes a sandwich to die for! Another favorite use is to chop up lots of pickled beach asparagus and add it to salads... especially potato salad or cole slaw. We often use the liquid in the pickled beach asparagus jars as a substitute for recipes calling for apple cider vinegar. 

With all of the warm weather we have been experiencing in this part of the world, our apple crop has been amazing the past few years. So, this year the hope is that we will have plenty of apple cider vinegar made from our own apples. With our own apple cider vinegar, we will have all of the necessary ingredients on hand for pickling lots of beach asparagus!


LET'S WALK THROUGH THE PROCESS OF PICKLING BEACH ASPARAGUS:

PREPARING JARS
We like to use quart jars. It is necessary to sterilize the jars and lids. We use a 100 ppm bleach solution. In other words, add one tablespoon of bleach to two gallons of water in a large container. Or, double it by adding two tablespoons of bleach to four gallons of water in a large container.




Place the jars and lids in this solution. Five minutes is plenty of time.



I place my jars on a large, freshly washed and dried towel upside down to drain for a short time.
Next, turn the jars right side up and allow to air dry.





ADDING FLAVOR...GARLIC, DILL and maybe CRUSHED RED PEPPER

After the jars have had time to dry, place the flavorings in each jar. Our garlic scapes were ready at the same time as our beach asparagus harvest.




The scapes were chopped a little and placed in each jar.




Garlic cloves work fine, too. Slice them if they are large. If you love garlic, add several cloves to each jar. How much garlic you add is a matter of taste and availability. Same with dill. We love the taste of dill and have plenty of dill weed on hand from the garden.




We added a good amount of dill to each jar.


Some people like to spice things up with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper per jar as well.



FILLING THE JARS WITH BEACH ASPARAGUS
With sterile tongs, or something similar, fill the jars with beach asparagus. Fill to just an inch or so below the top.
Do not pack tightly.





LIQUID SOLUTION
Now we are ready to make the liquid solution from water and apple cider vinegar.

How much apple cider vinegar should you use? 

If you do not have a means of testing the pH of your solution, then it would be best to just go 50% water and 50% apple cider vinegar. That way there will be no question that your liquid solution has a pH under 4.6 as required.

If you are equipped to test pH, you will find that you can use a little less apple cider vinegar.


Just out of curiosity, I measured the pH of the water I used. The water had a pH of 5.32



When I mixed water and apple cider vinegar two to one...
in other words 
              
               2 cups of water
               1 cup of apple cider vinegar

the pH of this mixture was 2.86 which is well below the requirement of the pH being under 4.6


I plan here to make several quart cases of pickled beach asparagus. Consequently, I will be making a large quantity of the liquid mixture. You will not need to make very much if you are only making up a case or so.  Mix it and boil it in small quantities which you can repeat rather than boil more than you will need. 

Using a very large tea kettle, I brought 16 cups of water to a boil. Once it was boiling, I added 8 cups of apple cider vinegar. Bring it back to a full, hard boil. 

The waiting jars full of beach asparagus should be nearby the stovetop where you are boiling the water and vinegar mix. Pour the boiling liquid into two or three jars. Place the boiling kettle back on the heated stove so it stays plenty hot. 

The temperature inside the center of your jars of beach asparagus after adding the boiling liquid needs to be at least 170 degrees. It will likely be at least that hot, but you can check to be sure with a meat or candy thermometer. Now quickly place a lid on each of the liquid filled jars and screw it on snug. Slosh the liquid around in the jar a little and turn it upside down for a minute. (I use clean, light weight gardening gloves while doing this part so I don't burn my fingers or lose hold of the jars).

Repeat this process, a few jars at a time, until all of your jars have been filled with the boiling liquid and have lids in place.


If, for any reason, you are concerned that the temperature inside the jars is less than 170 degrees after adding the boiling solution, relieve your mind by immediately giving the jars a hot water bath. Fill a large canner or large pot with water and bring to a boil. Have it ready and boiling when you fill your jars with all the goodies and boiling solution. This pot needs to be filled with water at least one inch above the tops of the jars once they are submerged. Lower your hot filled jars with the lids screwed on securely into the boiling water. Once the water comes back up to a full boil, let the jars boil in this bath for five more minutes. After the five minute boil, carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and set them, lid end up, on a towel or rack until cool. Keep the big pot of boiling water in the background if you have more jars to fill and process.


It took most of the day, but it was worth it!

Once the jars of pickled beach asparagus have cooled, I like to store them in a cool, dark location in the boxes that came with the jars... or some other cardboard cartons. The lower shelves in our garage are an ideal location for storing our canned goods. If we get any hard freeze weather in winter, the cases of jars are temporarily moved indoors.






              - BLANCH AND FREEZE -

I remember the first time someone suggested that I blanch some of my vegetables before freezing them. I did not have a clue what that meant! In case you don't know either, it simply means to dip the vegetables in boiling water for a short amount of time. In the case of fresh beach asparagus, after rinsing, place a bunch in a colander type pan that will fit inside a larger pan of boiling water. Drop the colander of beach asparagus down into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Lift it out above the boiling water allowing the hot water to drain out of the beach asparagus. Once drained, immediately immerse, or dump, that blanched beach asparagus into an awaiting container of very cold water to stop the cooking and to prevent discoloring. Stir.


Once cooled, drain the water from the blanched beach asparagus. To package it for freezing, place it in a zip lock. Or, better yet, vacuum the blanched beach asparagus if you have access to a vacuum sealer. If need be, it will keep in the freezer for many months!

While it is still frozen, I open the vacuum bag and shave small slices off of the frozen clump... as much as I will need for whatever dish I am planning. It is easy to cut when it is frozen. And, I don't want to thaw the entire package if I don't need it all at once. 

Then I fold the opening and replace the remainder back in the freezer for later use!

I like to chop and add the frozen beach asparagus to such foods as soups, stews, chowders, omelets, chili, meat loaf, burgers, smoothies and green drinks. 



CAN'T GET OUT TO HARVEST YOUR OWN BEACH ASPARAGUS? 
Fortunately, it is possible these days to buy locally harvested beach asparagus. GIMBAL BOTANICALS makes beach asparagus available in several businesses around town as well as the farmers market. it is also sold online. Click on the address below:
http://gimbalbotanicals.com/










This post is dedicated in loving memory to Clothilde Bahovec.
It was Clothilde who first introduced me to beach asparagus. 
This remarkable woman never failed to inspire me with her wisdom. 















2 comments:

  1. Such a fun discussion Florence, thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are sure welcome, Davey! Hoping your summer is filled with green happiness!

    ReplyDelete