The unfurling fronds of the Ostrich Fern, fiddleheads are a traditional food of Indigenous North American peoples, and now a wildly, obsessively, popular springtime delicacy along the north east up through Canada, where an icy white world deprives us of any fresh plantlike sensory delight for more than half a year. After a long season of storage beets, squash and potatoes, the fiddlehead's asparagus-like taste is refreshing. The ferns appear in wetland areas about the same time as the first greenhouse salads and cool weather vegetables from local farms, it's suddenly a chlorophyll- green bounty in our mouths.
When fiddlehead season arrives by you, find them at farmer's markets and specialty food stores, or responsibly forage them. Here in Maine everyone is hawking them, our local food stores, gas stations, even trucks pulled over road side with 'fiddleheads for sale' signs on their windows.
There are other edible fiddleheads, notably Bracken, Lady and Royal ferns. The ostrich ferns are prized for easiest to clean, prolific growth and great flavor. All fern heads need to be cooked before eating; steam or boil then sauté. OR PICKLE THEM!
Pickling fiddleheads is the best way to preserve their flavor and texture. They offer numerous spice and seasoning possibilities, any combo you might like with asparagus- lemon, classic dill, smokey paprika, garlic and chili peppers (see my book Pickled to Please for 18 different pickling brine recipes).
This recipe uses a heady blend of seasonings to insure we crave them all next winter, before fiddlehead season begins again.
makes 2 pint jars (for canning or refrigerator)
1 pound cleaned Ostrich fern fiddleheads
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons salt (use pure salt, free of anti-caking additives)
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1-2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried dill
If canning this, prepare your jars and canner for water bath or steam canning, read HOW TO HERE.
Swish fiddleheads in a bowl of cold water, drain, repeat, until any residual brown frond coating disappears. If you've purchased cleaned fiddleheads a couple of quick rinses is all it takes. Place them in a small pot with water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer 7 minutes, until they turn drab green and are easily pierced with a fork. Drain and rinse in cold water.
Combine all remaining ingredients in a stainless or non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add fiddleheads and simmer a few minutes, until they are heated through.
Ladle fiddleheads and brine into prepared jars, use a canning funnel for neatness, and leave a 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and apply lids and rings. Process in a water bath or steam canner for 15 minutes. If you are new to canning read THIS FIRST.
Once processing time is complete remove to a folded dishtowel and leave undisturbed until completely cool. Check lids for seal; any unsealed jars should be placed promptly in the refrigerator. Sealed jars will keep at least one year in a cool dry place.