In a Pickle »

Jarred, canned, pickled, and preserved.

In a Pickle: Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns

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[Photographs: Marisa McClellan]

Much like the ramps I wrote about last week, fiddlehead ferns are a fleeting spring delicacy. Found primarily in the wild, they are the fresh growth that appears at the top of a fern frond (only some varieties can be eaten. Make sure to check a reputable foraging guide before picking your own). If left alone, they develop into new leaves for the plant. However, careful foragers can trim a few off each plant during the early stages of their growth for a bright, fresh vegetable.

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I find that fiddlehead ferns taste like a cross between asparagus and a green bean. A particular specialty of New England and the eastern coast of Canada, they've traditionally been steamed or boiled before being dressed with a sauce or vinaigrette.

As with any vegetable that has a condensed season, there's an instinctive urge to preserve it. Once cleaned and blanched, fiddlehead ferns become excellent pickles that allow you a chance to extend their season and enjoy their distinctive taste and texture a little while longer.

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The finished pickles are good served with poached eggs and toast, with runny cheeses, or alongside any rich bit of meat or pate.

Before You Get Started

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In years past, fiddlehead ferns were something that could only be obtained through foraging. However, these days they're a little easier to source. Check specialty stores and your local farmers' markets. I got mine at Iovine's, a produce vendor at Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market.

As I noted above, not all fern tops are safe to eat. If you're foraging for yourself triple-check that you're getting the right kinds.

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Prepare fiddleheads for pickling by washing them well, cleaning all the brown chaffy bits and simmering for 10-15 in boiling water.

Because they're either scarce or expensive, the recipe is scaled to make just one finished pint of pickles. If you find yourself falling in love with these pickles, I recommend splurging on a few more fiddleheads and putting up a few jars.

About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first book, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in May 2012.

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