By some great stroke of luck, I ended up with 7-8 pounds of Michigan asparagus this year. I brought home the first 4 pounds after a May visit with my family in Indiana. Our little family enjoyed it in salads and stir-fries, grilled, and steamed. Then my parents came to visit a couple of weekends ago and my mom brought her portion of asparagus that she "just hadn't had time to use". She left it with me, and I decided to freeze it for later (we've eaten a lot of asparagus lately!)
Asparagus freezes well and thaws out just fine for a side dish or use in recipes. Nothing is as good as fresh of course, but when the price of asparagus shoots (Ha ha. Shoots. Get it?) up after the growing season is over, having asparagus in your freezer is a nice, inexpensive asset.
I've been freezing asparagus since my 4-H days when I exhibited it as a Food Preservation project at our county fair. It really is a simple vegetable to preserve. And with a small amount like this 3-4 pounds, it really takes very little time to take it from "fresh to freezer".
You start by heating a large pot of water to boiling for blanching the vegetable. Why blanch? Here's a quick explanation (from my post about freezing sweet corn):
Blanching vegetables destroys enzymes, changes the texture and sets the color. For extended storage, like freezing, destroying the enzymes improves the keeping quality of the vegetables. The same enzyme that causes fruits and vegetables to ripen also cause them to rot. Blanching before freezing is not necessary, but blanched vegetables will look and taste fresher for a longer period of time.
After you put the water on to boil, wash the asparagus to get all of the sand and soil off.
Snap off the "woody" bottoms if there are any, then sort the asparagus into piles by stalk size: small, medium, and large. The reason for sorting by size is that the blanching time varies based on the size of the stalk.
I forgot to take a picture of the blanching step, but here's the break down: You just drop the stalks into the boiling water for the required amount of time.
Large stalks- 4 minutes
Medium stalks- 3 minutes
Small stalks- 2 minutes
Remove the asparagus from the water and quickly drain.
Then drop it into an ice water bath to quickly cool and stop the cooking process.
Once the asparagus has cooled, drain it again.
Then pack the asparagus into labelled (it's always easier to label a bag before filling) freezer bags. I like to fill each bag half-full (because I'm an optimist!) while holding it upright, then lay it down flat, spread out the asparagus, and squeeze out any air before sealing. This creates a product that freezes quickly, hence preventing the formation of large ice crystals.
Freeze the bags flat until solid, then stack them however you please to save space in your freezer.
Note: You could also slice the asparagus into pieces before blanching. Sliced asparagus make for a speedy addition for stir-fry, casseroles and quiches, or soup.
Whether you are growing your own or you find a great deal at the Farmers' Market this season, be sure to put some up for later when the prices "shoot" up!