Fiddlehead Frolic Part Two – Pickled Fiddleheads

As I previously mentioned in last week’s Fiddlehead Frolic part one, I’ve been doing some research into pickling fiddleheads. There aren’t too many recipe books that include recipes for fiddleheads, so I’ve had to experiment a bit.

I really enjoy eating naturally fermented pickles that go sour with a lactofermentation process, so I knew I wanted to to try this technique.  I used the same basic recipe that we used in a bunch of workshops and market demos last summer because it’s simple and basic, and can be easily adapted to different vegetables and herbs and spices.  Basically, you put your veggies and herbs or spices in a clean jar, and cover them with a brine made of six cups of water and a 1/4 cup of pickling or kosher salt.   That’s pretty much it.  The herbs and any other aromatics that you include will change the flavour of your pickles pretty dramatically.

I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I should steam the fiddleheads first – most recipes suggest never eating them raw because they’re bitter and run the risk of food-borne disease, but some other sources suggested that they’d be fine.  I erred on the side of caution for three out of four batches, and steamed them for about five minutes to kill off any nasties while still trying to maintain some crunch.  I tried one batch of completely raw fiddleheads – mostly to see if the texture would change a lot.  (I also figured that it’s unlikely that I’ll be eating these in large quantities, and some recipes online had suggested it would be fine).

But picklers cannot live by lacto-fermentation alone!  I found a great recipe online for pickled fiddleheads using red wine vinegar that were canned in a boiling water bath that you can find here.  I modified the recipe a bit to use up what I had in my kitchen – I used half and half red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar, and omitted the lemon zest.  Fiddleheads shrink down A LOT after they’re steamed, so I decided to do a light steam before packing them into jars.

This photo shows the results from these experiments.  From left to right:

  • steamed lacto-fermented with caraway, red chili flakes and mustard and celery seeds,
  • raw lacto-fermented with dill and garlic,
  • pickled and heat processed in red wine and cider vinegars with shallots and garlic
  • steamed lacto-fermented with pickling spice and thyme and garlic

As you can see, steaming the fiddleheads has a big impact on the colour of the final product, with the raw-fermented fiddleheads maintaining the best colour.  These pickles were also the most crunchy, but the pre-steamed fermented pickles maintained their structure and crunch quite well.  The heat processed pickles in wine vinegar and shallots had the poorest structure – the heat processing left them a little on the soggy side.   However, because of possible concerns with food safety, I’ll definitely steam all fiddleheads I pickle in the future – it doesn’t make sense to risk illness for a pretty colour!

But most importantly – how do they taste?   An informal taste test among the EAC staff had the slightly sweet wine vinegar fiddleheads coming out on top, followed by the steamed fiddleheads fermented with pickling spice.  Personally, I liked the strong flavour of the mustardy, peppery fermented fiddleheads – but it just goes to show that a little experimentation goes a long way!

5 thoughts on “Fiddlehead Frolic Part Two – Pickled Fiddleheads

  1. ….but wouldn’t the red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar deal with any pathogens (?) etc that steaming would ?

    • Good point, Karen.
      There really is no need to pre-steam these before they get pickled – I chose to do this primarily because they shrink so much when they get steamed, and I wanted to fit more in a jar. I had read a few posts online that mentioned that jars of heat-processed raw fiddleheads were half liquid because they shrank so much.
      I think the texture would be improved if I kept them raw though, so in the future I’d accept the half-empty jars in favour of a better textured pickle!

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