Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns

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I know.

No, like really.

I know. They’re as close to caterpillars all coiled up as I’m comfortable getting.

Good news: They’re not.

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My friends Brook and Jameson invited me to pickle fiddlehead ferns with them one rainy May Monday.

Yes was my third reaction, just after no, followed by maybe.

There were fiddlehead ferns. So named because of their resemblance to the curl of a violin’s top.

There was vinegar.

There was pickling spice.

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There was sugar.

There were cloves of garlic.

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There were baby, glass, bulb-bottomed jars.

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There was Brook’s beautiful home.

There was me taking photographs of Brook’s beautiful home.

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There was Brook, smiling at me, taking photographs of her beautiful home.

Tellingly, there was champagne.

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It comes as a two-for-one deal when you spend sweet time with my friend Jameson.

Oh Jameson, you know how I blush at bubbly.

What I wobbled away with was a renewed love of all things pickled and preserved. Brook showed us just how simple, how straightforward it is to take your favorite fruits and vegetables, and bottle them for days and years ahead.

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I mean it when I say, simple.


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The ferns- or the cucumbers, the tomatoes, the onions, the anything-you’ll-stare-blankly-at-in-your-vegetable-drawer– they’ll be tangy, supple and soft, positively packed with flavor in a week or two. They’ll be easy to pull from your cupboard once fall comes, winter arrives, snow settles, and you’re so unprepared to go to that market up the street. Just me?

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They’ll make every single sandwich special. They’ll play up any plate with bright, crisp, and punchy flavor.

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They’ll remind you of a day you spent weeks or months ago, by your onesies or with your friends, when you made your own food from scratch. You’ll think you’re a pioneer. You’ll wear an apron and a bonnet and wonder, if only for a moment, ‘really, how hard could it be to churn butter?’

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Like, come on, probably not that hard.

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Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns

makes 2 pint-sized jars

1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb fiddlehead ferns

Prepare the fiddleheads: snip their stems close to the curl and rinse away any dirt between the coils. Soak in cool water, swirling occasionally, to remove any more dirt present in the curl.

Combine remaining ingredients, except for fiddleheads, in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add the fiddleheads and boil gently for 5 minutes. This will soften them and allow them to absorb that pickled flavor.

Strain the fiddleheads and garlic slices but keep the vinegar solution. Pack the fiddleheads into sterilized jars, distribute the garlic evenly, and cover with the vinegar solution leaving ½ inch of room at the top. (To sterilize jars and bands, boil in water for 10 minutes)

Place the lids on the jars and screw on the bands tightly. Place the jars in a pot with a rack and cover with 3 inches of water. Cover the pot and turn up the heat. Bring the water to a boil and boil the jars for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat then remove the jars and allow to cool completely on a towel.

Be sure the jars are properly sealed by pressing their tops. If the raised button on the lid has popped, you’ll know they’re sealed. Store in a cool dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.



33 thoughts on “Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns

  1. Johnny

    You took me waay back with this one! I haven’t had fiddleheads since leaving our coastal farm house in Maine. You had a very small window of time to pick them and you had to make sure you got the right kind or you would get sick. They grew wild near a brook out back of our house and I really looked forward to fiddlehead season. We never pickled them however, wish I had some right now to try. We would par boil them then gently saute’ them in butter and garlic. LOVED THEM!! Thanks for the memory! :)

    1. Michelle

      I live in Maine and spent hours picking fiddlheads yesterday.. First timer. Lot of work and bugs but so worth it last night at dinnertime…yummm

  2. The Teenage Taste

    Yeah, these do sorta look like caterpillars. I bet they taste delicious, though. Where do you buy fiddlehead ferns. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them at the grocery store…

  3. Melissa

    Just gorgeous, Andie! What a fun, unique experience! I saw fiddlehead ferns when I was at Pike Place a couple of months ago and was instantly enamoured. They are little charmers, aren’t they?

  4. Carissa

    We had fiddlehead ferns on a vacation when I was in kindergarten. They were so yummy! I’ve never eaten them since but I may go in search of them now.

    There’s something about canning excess produce that’s very fulfilling. I love the self-sufficient feeling it brings.

  5. Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat

    I tasted my first fiddleheads about a month ago and despite their curly-caterpillar-like appearance, I thought they were really good! Having said that, there aren’t too many veggies I’ve met that I haven’t enjoyed, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise. I’ve never done any canning or pickling though, so thanks for the tutorial! :)

  6. Alexa Ray

    Oh gosh those look so good… I was always told that fiddleheads were poisonous if you didn’t cook them right, though… Was I lied to? Was I horribly misled? Have I been avoiding adorable little fiddleheads for no reason?!

    If you’re in a super pickling mood I suggest taking a peek at the Momofuku cookbook! (http://www.amazon.com/Momofuku-David-Chang/dp/030745195X) I go to their restaurants in New York City all the time, and they pickle everything there. I mean EVERYTHING. Fried potatoes with pickled ramped, kimchi, pickled every-single-vegetable-ever and every dish has some sort of pickle in it. I love his recipe for quick pickles and pickled fruits, it’s definitely worth a peek!

  7. Ellen Renee

    I am so glad others mentioned never hearing about/seeing such a thing before! I live in southern Illinois and never have I noticed anything like this at the grocery store. We Are Not Martha blog (Sue) had a meal recently at her parents home and they served these with small lavendar colored flowers in the bowl – so pretty.

  8. Brook - LearnToPreserve

    Hi Andie – I thought I left a comment earlier but maybe I didn’t hit send. ? Basically what I said was what a wonderful surprise it was to read your post about our super-fun day together.
    (I didn’t know you had blogged about it, but noticed a spike in new readers on my website and followed the trail back to you!)
    You’re such a doll. You are ALWAYS welcome at my house for more preserving. This past weekend I made Roasted Rhubarb Ketchup, Rhubarb~Jalapeno~Cherry Chutney and Douglas Fir Jelly, using only the tender new-growth tips of the tree branches. Something tells me you would have loved all of it.
    Just let me know if you want to join me, and I’ll get the Champagne chiller ready.
    B xoxo

  9. Jameson

    What a lovely recap of a great afternoon! How lucky am I to get to hang out with you and Brook? I will always bring the bubbly for our next pickling adventure.

  10. Erin

    I have never gotten to try them because someone always steals them out of my garden. I have always wanted to put them in a stir fry though.

  11. Bee

    Doing SOMETHING with fiddleheads AND pickling something are both on my Summer Goals List. I hope they don’t go out of season too soon though, Saturdays seem to be my only Cooking Days with the play I’m in. I love anything pickled, so I’m drooling over these, even though I’ve never had fiddleheads!–a Stephen King book I once read said they taste like teaberry gum though?

  12. Jamie

    I have only seen these in photos on food blogs and they blow me away. I really need to try them in real life. I should really also learn to pickle.

  13. Harri Liljalehto

    Hi Folks,

    Thanks for the picking instructions. I will be at it next early May. I am a guy,so cute is not in me but I do
    appreciate all the interest and comments. Here are some
    facts that you need to know before heading out to harvest:

    .the fiddle heads are in season only in late April or
    early May. Leaves on the trees will have just emerging

    . look in rich, deep soil river bottoms with good sunlight

    . you will need to wear rubber boots, if you are picking them without, you probably have the wrong fern

    . there are about only 10-14 days of good picking

    .Bracken ferns are often close-by but are poisonous, they have a fuzzy, lighter green color.Bracken grow in dries sites.

    .wash they well, as explained in the article, remove all
    brown coverings and rinse gently till you have clean water
    .they keep a long time in the fridge 5 or more days as
    fresh picked

    .try them fresh. Don’t cook too many at a time,say 8 per person

    .I boil some water in a glass bowl in the microwave,
    put in the fiddle heads and butter and microwave for another minute. That’s northern Ontario haute cuisine.



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