{springtime recipe} Pickled Fiddleheads

Before they are gone for the season, please go to your local farmers market and grab a bag of a truly “wild” and “foraged”  food: premature ostrich fern, also known as Fiddleheads. They are curled-up ferns before they fan out into their fuzzy frond glory.

I am lucky to be able to get my fix at work at Kilpatrick Family Farm. Michael and his crew (I have the less-labor intensive job of working from my laptop & at the markets directly with customers) have been given permission to harvest them from the banks of a near-by stream on neighboring landowner’s property. Fiddleheads can not be cultivated, so they truly are a wild food. Fiddlehead season doesn’t last long, so act now!


I first encountered fiddleheads, in a fermented super-spicy-napa-cabbage-like-kimchi, made by my very culinary-gifted mother-in-law, Tok Yon. If I can score the recipe from her one of these days…. because I instantly fell in love. They have the earthy, fibrous taste of asparagus coupled with the spice of a traditional red pepper slathered ferment- whoa. It was really lovely flavor combo because the fiddleheads had a much different taste than the almost blank-slate (but lovely crunch) of napa cabbage.

That said, I wanted to make something new-to-me. When I have a new food in my kitchen, and I don’t want to refer to a cookbook, I refer to The Flavor Bible. I can NOT live without this book. It’s a glossary of flavors profiles and partners-in-crime. So for this recipe, I looked up asparagus (extremely similar in taste) and found that caraway seed and tarragon were flavor matches. I wanted to do a easily traveled recipe, so I grabbed some apple cider vinegar for a quick pickle and I was off to the races.

The reason I needed it to be a easily traveled application was due to “Customer Appreciation Day” at Saratoga Farmers Market 1st Outdoor Saturday Market. All the vendors start the season with a ribbon cutting by the Mayor, various local restaurants do cooking demos and most of the vendors try to give samples. As we’re a veggie & fruit & egg & soon chicken stand, I decided to bring a dish with “the” product of the moment: Fiddleheads. The pickle was loved by all, even the fiddlehead-adverse (or at least no one said to my face that they hated it).

You should be warned that there is some “cleaning” involved to get off all the brown papery protective-sheath. Michael smartly suggested this on his latest farm newsletter: “If there are any dark brown parts, remove them before cooking. If there is a lot of brown papery material on the outside, you can place them all in a paper bag and shake vigorously. Then put them in a colander and rinse them with a strong blast of cold water.” 

He continued:

“It should be noted that some people need to have their fiddleheads well-cooked (over 10 minutes) in order to prevent stomach upset. I have never experienced any problem, and many people don’t, but some do. If you are unsure, check out this site which has some great information on it.” 

This pickle is really versatile, like most pickled items. Add to salads, sandwiches or as a standalone snack. Would also pair well with an egg dish or a braised meat entrée. Use your imagination! Go for it!

{Jillian scooping customer’s fiddlehead orders}

Pickled Fiddleheads in Taragon & Caraway Seed

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup fiddleheads

Directions: Wash & Clean the fiddleheads as stated above. Add first 6 items into a pot and stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil and once sugar is dissolved turn off heat. Add fiddleheads directly to pot and let sit until cool*. Pour brine & fiddleheads into a sterilized, airtight container and refrigerate.

*Due to the possible stomach upset stated above, instead of briefly boiling the fiddleheads, I just let soak in the hot brine. Its the super-lazy way to go. If you want a prettier fiddlehead (vibrant green) you can blanch them in a quick boil then thrown into ice water then put the fiddleheads into your container and pour the hot brine over them and refrigerate.

**As with all my posts that include a reference to Kilpatrick Family Farm: In full disclosure, I am happily the farm’s CSA Coordinator.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. leslie r says:

    i got some at our local coop and steamed them twice and then sauted with onion and garlic. scrumptious.

    also we have local ramps.. another foraged treat!

    1. Christina says:

      Ohhh local ramps- yum! I’m gonna post a ramp/green garlic/spinach recipe next week. I love ramps.

      and yes sauted fiddleheads are amazing. good choice!

  2. Dianna says:

    This is an exciting recipe, Chris. I always buy things like fiddle heads and ramps because they are beautiful, not because I know what to do with them. Thanks.

    1. Christina says:

      Thank you Dianna. Everyone at the market seemed to like it.

  3. victoria says:

    Hey I was wondering if you ever got that kimchi recipe? Thanks!

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