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.


  1. I think this must be a Northern delicacy. I had never heard of eating this until I took s trip to New England a few years ago. I brought a jar back to my sister. She lived in Ithaca a few years and she instantly knew them.

    1. I think I read about them long before I ever saw them. But then, I have a lot of cookbooks, old and new, so I find a lot of weird recipes (some of which I share here).

  2. True confessions--I have never tasted fiddlehead ferns.
    More truth? I've never really been tempted. I don't know why. I try almost anything, the more obscure, the better.
    I went looking for wild edibles with Euell Gibbons back in the late 60's.
    Guess I should take a chance, right?

  3. I've heard of fiddlehead ferns but never seen any in my area here along the northeast corner of Lake Erie in Ohio. The recipe sounds intriguing and makes me want to start scouting them now. With my luck I'd probably end up with poison ivy and no fiddleheads. lol!

  4. I remember a Canadian friend talked about harvesting fiddleheads and maybe called them something else. I never knew they were edible. I just love looking at them. Thanks for the recipe although I doubt you could find enough to make it down here. Reading your uncozy right now and have to say I understand that comment, but still enjoying it, lol

    1. I keep saying that Philadelphia feels more like a small community than a big city. A couple of years ago I spent a couple of days with "Marty Terwilliger" (who is based on a real person, and a friend). We walked around center city and she must have stopped for conversation with six different people, from elected officials to a street vendor selling clothes. She really does know everyone. And that's the "cozy" part.

  5. On May 11, 2015, we had about 6-8 inches of snow here in SD. A few years ago later in My we had snow at our cabin in Wisconsin. (Just trying to make you feel better about your snow.) Are those just regular ferns with their springtime heads? We had so many of them at our place in Wisconsin.

    1. Oh, yeah, I looked them up. They were like weeds there. I didn't know the heads were edible.

    2. All fiddleheads are ferns, but no all ferns have fiddleheads? The picture here is of a cluster toward the back out our house. There are more in the front garden, but the heads look nothing like the fiddleheads. No, I haven't tried eating those! Or maybe I just missed the 15 minutes when they were still tightly curled.