Friday, May 29, 2009

Pickled Fiddleheads

If you live in the Seattle area, next time you're at a farmers market look for the Foraged and Found Edibles booth and pick up a copy of Christina Choi's Wild Foods Recipe Calendar, with illustrations by Emily Counts. This month-by-month catalog of the Pacific Northwest's wild cornucopia is a treasure trove of recipes and information. Oh, and take a gander at Christina's new blog too, Nettletown.

I tried the Pickled Fiddleheads recipe first.

1 lb fiddleheads, cleaned
2 lemons
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
8-inch piece wild ginger (optional)
1 tsp whole black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp whole allspice
1/2 lb shallots, sliced 1/8 inch thick
4 pint jars with lids and screwcaps, sterilized

1. Remove strips of lemon zest with a peeler, then juice lemons.
2. Pack fiddleheads tightly into canning jars, layered with shallots and lemon zest.
3. Bring to boil water, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, spices, and optional ginger.
4. Pour over fiddleheads so that liquid reaches to within a 1/4 inch of rim, then secure lids and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

The biggest challenge of fiddleheads isn't finding and picking them—that's relatively easy once you have an understanding of their habitat (moist woodlands, stream banks, swampy areas). No, the hardest part is cleaning the curly little buggers. (Before and after photos above.) Fiddleheads emerge out of an underground root system in tight, sheathed coils. The choicest fiddleheads are those closest to emergence, which also means those dressed in the shaggiest coats.

Here's a cleaning tip: Use two large bowls filled with water. Soak your fiddleheads in one and use the other as a rinsing dish. The chaff will come off easily enough with a little rubbing. When chaff begins to accumulate in your rinsing bowl, strain it out. This tedious sink-side work will be paid off handsomely with a pickled batch of springtime.


Unknown said...

I grew up with eating these every spring. You just brought back a ton of memories I haven't thought about in years. =)

matt wright said...

OH YEAH! Never thought of pickling these guys. What a great idea.

Julia said...

I love the idea of pickling! (I just pickled some ramps in the same fashion). The fiddleheads here are starting to show up in the markets slightly unraveling... I wonder if that means the season is nearing the end.

One of my readers posed this question, and maybe you know the answer: "Are all ferns OK to eat as fiddleheads?"

Peabody said...

I have never even heard of pickling them. Now I need to try one.

Langdon Cook said...

Garrett - Might be time to relive some of those childhood memories.

Matt - I'm thinking they'll be extra good right around the end of the BBQ season, when spring will seem like a distant shore.

Julia - Yeah, those unravelled fiddleheads are to be avoided if possible, at least with lady ferns. Maybe ostrich can hang on a little longer before turning bitter.

Re: your question, there isn't a lot of literature on the toxicity of fiddleheads. As far as I know, there are no deadly poisonous fiddleheads, although there may be some that are slightly toxic. I've sampled a bunch of varieties and never had a problem. Bracken is a known carcinogen, but this hasn't stopped Japanese, Korean, Native American, and other cultures from eating them for centuries.

Peabody - I'll save you some!

Anonymous said...

A foray we went on with an nice popular hungarian lady (mushroom picker) let us have some of her pickled fiddleheads. Ever since I have wondered which ferns to pick from. The pictures look so close. Just need someone to show me. I have 6 acres of ferns it seems and they do not appear to be the right species? What you have looks so nummy. CookNgrl

Alisa@Foodista said...

Now that is a great idea,and those fiddleheads look wonderful too! Really enjoy reading your blog!

Camille said...

You read my mind, LC!

I've been pickling like crazy and making oshinko sushi with some select pickles (like radish and burdock). I'm actually right in the middle of writing a post about it.

I think the best edible ferns (fiddleheads) are lady and ostrich. The ones I collect in BC are Ladies but I think Ostrich tastes better. Bracken can be eaten-I love the texture of it- and taste a bit like bitter almond, though apparently they are carcinogenic.

I'm sure there are more edible ferns, but that's the extent of what I know about those in North America. Pickling makes them available year round' here, and I love eating them in a caesar at the height of summer. Such a lovely garnish.

You've done it again, Forager!

Langdon Cook said...

CookNGrl - You'll want to use lady ferns or ostrich ferns. There are a few others as well. Try to ID yr patch if you can.

Alisa - Thanks for stopping by. Reminds me that I need to get some of these recipes posted on Foodista...

Camille - I need to check out yr burdock post. Love pickled burdock. A Japanese place in Seattle, Maneki, does it well. What do you know about cinnamon fern fiddleheads? Conflicting reports there.

Claiborne @ buttered bread said...

Very happy to find your blog while searching for a pickled fiddleheads recipe. Trying this today!

Anonymous said...

It's easy to clean fiddle heads first pick them dry put about 2 quarts in a large stainless bowl using a air compressor blow straight down into the bowl and all the brown skin will blow right out of the bowl then use your outside water spicket and hose them 4-5 times. will be clean as a whistle!!!! enjoy