Most of the people I know, when you say 'pickle' to them, think of cucumbers. This is sort of unfortunate, because you can pickle almost any vegetable, and some, I think, are better pickled than fresh.
Most of the people I know would also not consider asparagus to be among those vegetables better pickled. It is so perfectly evocative of springtime, and so limited in its season, that it seems almost sacrilege to do anything more to it than steam or roast it, and perhaps serve it with sauce béarnaise if you are not too intimidated by the preparation.
But if you have plenty of asparagus, or are feeling reckless with your limited supply, let me commend to you this recipe from from Hannah Glasse, an 18th-C English woman whose biography can be painted only with the broadest brush, whose image does not survive to us, and who is called by some the original domestic goddess.
Certainly she was the first modern cookbook writer; that is, the first who did not assume she was writing for experienced cooks. Her directions are clear, her ingredients lists admirably well-edited, and her use of weights and measures unprecedented.
This version is very slightly adapted.1
Hannah Glasse's Pickled Asparagus
1 lb asparagus
24 fl oz white wine vinegar
10 fl oz water
1/2 cup sea salt
6 g nutmeg (about 2 whole)
6 g mace
6 g white peppercorns
Wash and trim asparagus. Place it in a pot of water large enough that the asparagus isn't crowded. Bring to the boil, remove from heat, and drain. Spread the spears on a kitchen towel to cool.
Once the asparagus stalks are cool, pat them dry if there are still any drops of water on them, and pack them into jars, tips upright. Put the remaining ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Strain out the spices and pour over the asparagus. Cover the jars loosely and allow to cool, then close the lids tightly and refrigerate for about a week before using.
Now, what do you do with pickled asparagus? Other than eat it straight out of the jar, that is. Which you may want to do, as it is delicious.
It is a wonderful addition to salads, and a spoonful of the brine, mixed with a little oil, makes a lovely vinaigrette. I like to chop some stalks up and combine them with boiled potatoes and a touch of that vinaigrette; the potatoes make a nice contrast with both the crunchy asparagus and the sharp brine. Make this a few hours ahead of when you plan to serve it and chill. Top with some chopped boiled eggs and fresh parsley just before serving, if you like.