Not a day too soon, my sister and I trudged out through the flooded fields of north Burlington to search for fiddleheads. Luckily we remembered our rain-boots, for we encountered a few miniature lakes on our way into the woods. We began searching along the river’s edge, but we found only a dozen rusting automobiles, a crushed porcelain doll, and a rabbit skull. Deeper into the marsh we began to see the curled heads of our green treasures. If we had waited one more week all of the delicate fiddleheads would have unfurled, and it was more difficult than we thought to find tightly wound, young heads. If you pluck the young heads from the center of the base of the fern, you’ll get a better taste. When out gathering make sure to pick “Ostrich ferns,” which sprout out of a messy brown base and unfurl into a lush green. Most other fern varieties are either inedible or too tough to enjoy.
We ended up picking a few gallons of fiddleheads, and we have been eating them on home-made pizzas with mozzarella and garlic, in pasta with olives and chevre, and my favorite preparation: pickled fiddleheads. Here is my recipe for approximately three jars:
1. Make sure to sterilize the jars and lids before canning (simply boil the jars in plenty of water for a few minutes).
2. Wash all fiddleheads thoroughly and soak overnight. To reduce tannins, scald in boiling water, but don’t boil too long or you will lose their perfect crunch.
3. In a large pot, combine the following ingredients and bring to a boil:
- 2 cups vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 2 t sugar
- 2 t salt
- An assortment of spices: cinnamon, black pepper, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cardamom, a pinch of dill, chili.
4. Fill each jar 3/4 full with fiddleheads, and a small handful of garlic and sliced onions. Once the vinegar mixture boils, pour the hot mixture over the fiddleheads just below the rim. Quickly place the lids and rims on each jar, twist tightly, and flip the jars upsidedown.