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Easy Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns

A few months ago Phil came home from work with a question; did I know of fiddlehead ferns? I didn’t, well not by name anyway. Phil had been discussing food with his boss, a fiercely proud Mainer named Dan, when the topic of fiddleheads came up. Apparently fiddleheads are abundant in Maine and foraging for them is a popular pastime. According to Dan, they are quite delicious sauteed in butter and finished with vinegar. I did a little research and found that I did know of fiddleheads, but mostly due to the fact that young ferns are growing everywhere around here. Although I was able to find abundant information of fiddleheads, I could hardly find anything on fiddlehead sources in Washington.

I knew this had to be wrong because if there is one thing we have in droves, it’s ferns*. Our forest floors, backyards and roadsides are covered with them. But I confess my knowledge of them is limited to the handy trick of rubbing them on the skin to relieve a nettle sting, (another plant of great abundance here in the great PNW). I’ve been keeping an eye out for these little green party favors ever since we moved back and I finally ran across them the other day at Uwajimaya. Needless to say, I loaded up.

It is a policy in my kitchen to first cook a new ingredient simply in order to analyze the taste and texture before I explore new creative possibilities. So as is the norm, I sauteed them up with olive oil, sel de mer and a touch of garlic. The first taste was a lovely thing; crisp, woodsy reminiscent of asparagus, but with a smoother finish and small tickly fronds to make for a delightful mouth feel. They went perfectly with the bottle of Viognier Emile sent me home with.

I learned a few of things in my first foray with fiddleheads.  First, the most efficient way to clean them is to place them in a bowl of cold water, agitate them with your hands to remove any little fronds that may have gone a bit brown, paying special attention to the center where dirt may be in hiding. Second, be sure to trim the ends off. I like to cut them on a bias using the theory of fresh cut flowers, so they soak up any juices they come into contact with. This will come in especially handy when preparing this weeks pickle recipe. Third, use them right after you buy them as they do not keep long. Sadly the cute little fronds do promote rotting.

I came up with this quick and simple pickling recipe for a few reasons. One, I love pickled anything**. Two I am a bit of a reluctant/fearful canner, this recipe is for a small batch, so unless you absolutely must there is no need to go there. Three, who wouldn’t want a pickle recipe that takes just minutes of prep time?

(I’m a bit listy today aren’t I)

Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns

3 cups Fiddlehead Ferns

1 1/2 cups Rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 cups Filtered water

1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns

1 tsp Caraway

2 TBS Fresh dill

1 small Garlic clove, grated or minced

1 tsp sel de mer (sea salt)

Boil the fiddleheads in salted water for two minutes and remove to an ice bath. After the cooking has been stopped drain the fiddleheads well. Place them in a medium bowl with the garlic and dill.

Heat a sauce pan over medium heat and toast the Szechuan peppercorns and Caraway until aromatic. Lower the heat and adding the water and vinegar, being careful as the pan may spit a little. Allow the liquid to steep a few minutes before pouring over the fiddleheads. Place in the fridge and allow the fiddleheads to marinate overnight.

These would go well with charcruterie, in a potato salad or just as they are. Use your imagination.

Note: You may think I’m being a bit fussy making you shock the fiddleheads in an ice bath, but I promise you it it necessary. If you don’t, the cooking process will continue and you will end up with mushy fiddleheads.

* Those ferns in Return of the Jedi weren’t on Endor. That’s right, it was Washington State.

**I cannot handle pickles with alum. The worst mango pickle I have ever had tasted as if I opened a container of alum powder and dug in with a spoon. Sad mango.

16 comments to Easy Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns

  • Heidi Heidi

    Hmmmm Fiddleheads yummy. John and I ran across the tasty Fiddlehead a few weeks back at a local store. He sauted them in butter and threw in some pecans at the last minute. Next season we will definitely stock up.

  • admin admin

    I bet the pecans were really delicious with them. I wonder why they aren’t as common a food here as they are for you Mainers?

  • Sam Sam

    Erin! That sounds so delicious! I bet I could eat the whole batch in one sitting. I’ve been known to do that, with dill pickles anyway. I promise not to drink the juice this time. Do you have any left? It would be a lovely snack for the air show!! :)

    Oh – and the Czech in me is so proud you included Caraway seeds. Everything is happier with Caraway.


  • Kim Kim

    I had no idea that those lovely little guys were EDIBLE! Incredible! Yay for ferns!

  • Griffin Griffin

    Coo! Ferns wot you can eat! I never knew that. For us, dock leaves relieve nettle stings and conveniently grow near nettles. But dock leaves are not ferns.

    Are you going to eat anything from the hedgerow/forest?

    I will have to find out if your fiddlehead ferns (great name by the way) are the same as the ones we find here in the UK.

    For us, spring usually means Elderflowers from which cordial is made that is summery scented and tastes lovely with a little lemonade.

  • Leslie Leslie

    That horrible mango pickle was here in Nottingham, wasn’t it?

    Sorry, I didn’t know it would be so bad.

    And if I happen to run across these fern things, I might give this recipe a shot, what with my yen for (almost) anything marinated in vinegar these days. I’ve been eyeing the pickled onions at the store recently, but I’ll be damned if I’ll go anywhere near the pickled eggs.

  • Leslie,
    This would be a good pickling solution for many different veggies. Find one that looks good to you and give it a try.

    The horrible mango pickle was from a shop in Lake Grove, NY. The horrible lime pickle that I had totally forgotten until now was from Nottingham. I usually like them both, just not those particular ones.

  • Erin they have something similar in NZ too, although I have not tried them.

  • Barbara, next time you run across them I would highly recommend giving them a go.

  • rainey rainey

    I remember hearing my family in Maine talk about fiddlehead ferns. Apparently, they’re picked in the spring and we were always up there at the end of the summer. So I never had any.

    If you’re an anxious canner look for Weck jars. They have glass tops so you can actually watch the air evacuating and the rubber gaskets indicate a good seal by pointing down as long as the pressure is maintained. Besides, they have lovely graceful shapes.

    Not to raise any anxiety but do you get enough acidity with rice wine vinegar (which I love)? Not saying I know that it isn’t — I certainly don’t know that. I just have never been brave enough to substitute it even though I’m crazy about the wonderful balanced flavor.

  • this looks lovely! Fiddlehead ferns have been on my to-taste list for a long time now…

    Speaking of wild food, I’ve been reading Euell Gibbon’s ‘Stalking the Wild Asparaugus’, and I highly recommend it — I just finished the chapter on cattails! who’d have thought that cattails are edible (and according to Gibbon’s, they’re delicious!)

  • FiddleheadLover FiddleheadLover

    I recently picked 4 pounds of fiddleheads for a family get together (my mom’s getting married again!) and intend to pickle them. Is Apple Cider Vinegar ok instead of Rice vinegar? I think I’m going to try it….

    They’re great sauteed with bacon grease, and a little salt, also good boiled until soft, with butter and vinegar added.

  • FiddleheadLover, It is completely okay. I will always encourage you to play around with my recipes to tailor them to your own tastes (or what’s in the pantry!).

    I love them with butter and vinegar, the friend of my husbands who introduced me to fiddleheads recommended that prep to me as well. I bet sautéing them in bacon fat in wonderful too.

    Congrats to your mom!

  • FiddleheadLover FiddleheadLover

    Quick question…..where do the garlic and the dill come in?

  • FiddleheadLover, I can’t believe after nearly two years the recipe had a mistake! Thanks for pointing it out to me, I’ve fixed it. I am surprised no one has spotted it yet, it is the most popular recipe on my site!

  • One thing I haven’t seen posted… If you’re going to pick your own fiddleheads, here’s a little advice:
    Go out early in the springtime and make sure you only pick the tightly curled, young ones, since they become bitter and toxic once they start to unfurl. Also, all the brown feathery ‘chaff’ should also be removed before eating/cooking.

    I remember picking these in Vermont and enjoying them in college, sauteed with other stir fry veggies and brown rice. They taste a lot like asparagus. I’ve copied down this pickle recipe and will go looking for some fiddleheads!
    Thanks for the recipe!

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