Showing posts with label fiddlehead ferns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiddlehead ferns. Show all posts

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pickled Ferns

Maybe spring has finally arrived? (I won’t mention that it snowed in Maine this week.) One harbinger is the fleeting appearance of fiddlehead ferns in our local market. There weren’t many, and I took them all.
These are the ones that grow in
my garden--you can see why
they call them fiddleheads

I gave a fiddlehead fern recipe once before here on MLK. I had to look it up—and it was four years ago! There aren’t a whole lot of things you can do with them, and I joked back then that maybe I’d find a recipe for pickling the things. Here it is!

I don’t do a lot of pickling (although my jelly-making skills are improving), so I don’t have a row of cookbooks to tell me what to do. So I went looking online.

I found it funny that the recipes I found were pretty much along classic pickling lines—you know, sterilize your mason jars, seal them right, et cetera. (You can skip that part and just keep them refrigerated—but not for too long—if you plan to use them soon.) If you go through the traditional process, they’ll keep for up to a year, in case you get a craving for a taste of spring next winter. One more point: let the pickled ferns, sealed or refrigerated, mellow for, variously, a week, two weeks, or up to six weeks before you eat them. Whenever you do open the jar, keep it refrigerated after.



1/2 pound fiddlehead ferns (just the tips)
Kosher salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp dill seeds
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
2 allspice berries
1 garlic clove, smashed

This was one version. Other versions called for a sprig of thyme or a piece of lemon peel. Yet another version wanted a whole lot of sugar. I’ve never been a fan of sweet pickles, but your tastes may differ. You can decide what sounds good to you.


[If you’re going to be a purist, prepare your jars. I have no clue how that works.]

In a small saucepan, combine the water, 1/2 tsp salt, garlic, and whatever herbs and spices you are using, and bring it to a boil. Take it off the heat, add the vinegar, and let it steep for an hour.

Put your ferns into a large bowl of cold water and wash them well. Trim off any brown parts, and cut off the woody ends. Drain them in a colander.

They're still green!
Fill a large saucepan with water, add salt (2 tsp/quart) and bring to a boil. Add the fiddlehead ferns and let them boil of 5 minutes (you want them to stay a bit crisp). Drain them and dunk them in a bowl of water with ice cubes added, to stop the cooking. Once they’re cool, drain them well—otherwise they’ll dilute the liquid with all the flavor (that’s next!).

When you’re ready to “jar,” pack the fiddleheads into a pint jar (I didn’t have a pint jar, so I used two half-pint jars), with a bit of room left at the top. Reheat the pickling liquid to boiling, then pour it over the fiddleheads. Screw on the top, and let cool. 

Serve them as a complement to meat or chicken—maybe the first time to use the barbecue this year? Add them to your first salad greens? Or use them when you want a brief taste of spring.

Yes, the book is coming! I'm beginning to call Dead End Street (Museum Mystery #7) my uncozy cozy. Yes, there's violence and bloodshed, but there's also a determined amateur heroine and an ending in which a lot of Philadelphia's problems are solved, with her help and help from some of her friends. 

It will be released on June 7th. You can find it for preorder on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, June 5, 2015


by Sheila Connolly

I kind of backed into this recipe. You see, it’s fiddlehead season. If you’re not familiar with fiddleheads, they are the tender tips of emerging ferns, still tightly coiled. They’re available for a very short time each spring. They taste a bit like asparagus, with a nice crunch.

The thing is, there’s not much you can do with them, if you want to enjoy their delicacy and freshness: simply saute/steam them with a little butter.

So, while contemplating my pound of fresh fiddleheads, I tried to come up with a complementary recipe for something, and I landed on gougère. That’s a fancy word for a pastry made of pâte à choux. Not any clearer? Think cream puff dough. I was first introduced to gougère by Julia Child, many years ago. Most often they are made by the spoonful, which produces a hollow crispy pastry that you can fill with either a sweet or savory filling. The dough is easy and fun to make.

But I wanted a single dish, not a fiddly (ha, a pun) bunch of little things. So I had to go hunting, and found one that was kinda, sorta what I wanted, so I started fine-tuning it. And voila! Here is my companion dish to the fiddleheads!

Gougère with mushrooms and ham

Pâte à Choux:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
1 cup flour
Pinch each of salt and pepper
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs
1/8 lb sharp Cheddar cheese, diced (about 1/4 inch cubes)

Mix the flour, salt and pepper together. Heat the water and butter in a large saucepan until the butter melts.

Bring the liquid to a boil. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir vigorously (most sources suggest a sturdy wooden spoon for this) until it comes together in an elastic ball. This should take about a minute.

Allow the mixture to cool for about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with that wooden spoon after each one.

Stir in the diced cheese.

Filling: (actually I made the filling first, because it can sit while you make the dough)

4 Tblsp butter

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1-1/2 Tblsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly grated pepper
1 cup chicken broth, heated
6 ounces cooked ham, chopped
1 Tblsp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Saute the onion over low-medium heat until soft but not browned. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour, salt and pepper and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the ham. Taste for seasoning.

Butter a 10- or 11-inch ovenproof skillet or shallow baking dish. Spoon the pâte à choux in a ring around the edge, leaving a hole in the center. 

Spoon the filling into the center. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the whole thing.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the gougère is crisp and puffy and the filling is bubbling.

Serve at once, cut into wedges (it kind of goes splat once you cut into it, but it tastes good!. Along with your fiddleheads!

At last! Privy to the Dead, available everywhere! You can finally find out what's in that hole in the basement of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society. (Don't worry, it won't turn your stomach.)

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Indiebound

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fiddlehead Ferns

by Sheila Connolly

We seem to be on a vegetable streak here at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. Whatever I was going to write about this week went flying out of my head when I spotted a package of fiddlehead ferns at my local market.

I bet a lot of you are now scratching your heads and saying, she's gone flipping crazy and is chewing on the foliage.  Not so, I assure you.

Fiddlehead ferns unfurl themselves in spring in New England, and they have an exceedingly short life (they keep unrolling until they become ferns, and then they aren't as edible unless you really are into foliage).  You have a window of about two weeks to find and enjoy them.

I first encountered them during an indulgent luncheon with my husband at the famed French restaurant Lutèce in New York, alas now closed (since 2004).  Then there was a long spell with no sightings, until they appeared as if by magic in our market one year and I seized upon them, and have kept my eye open for them ever since.

Since they are available for such a short time, there is a dearth of recipes available for them.  What is more peculiar is that among many of the online recipes, the authors drown their fiddleheads in overwhelming flavors, like horseradish or mustard.  Fiddleheads are shy and retiring little creatures, similar in flavor to asparagus, so what's the point?

A pound of fiddleheads, cleaned

The best solution is to prepare them simply.  First cut off any brown parts of the stem and remove any brown bits of leaf, then cook. There are a couple of options:

1.  Steaming:  In a steamer set over boiling water, steam a pound of fiddleheads for about five minutes, until they are just tender.  Drain off the water, add butter and salt, and enjoy, unadorned, as a side dish.

After steaming (don't overcook!)

2. Sauteing:  Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the fiddleheads, toss to coat with butter, then cover and cook gently until they are just tender. 

An alternative is to sauté finely chopped shallots in the butter first, then add the fern heads, or if you want something slightly stronger, minced garlic. You may also want to try a mild-flavored olive oil.

No matter how you prepare them, enjoy this fleeting flavor of spring!  Now, if I could just find someone who sells garlic scapes (the curly ends of hardneck garlic, which are usually cut off and thrown away) again…or ramps (another early spring vegetable, also called a wild leek, that has a mild onion-garlic flavor)…

Garlic scapes