Pickled Fiddlehead Fern Shoots
Last Saturday, my friend Leslie and I went on a General Foraging walk in the woods, led by "Fat of the Land" author Langdon Cook. It was a lovely sunny day, which added to my desire to spend more time in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. The fact that there are so many nutritious things to forage and eat has inspired me to do it earlier in the spring next year, and to plan on doing it more often this year as well.
Fresh Lady Fern shoots are small works-of-art
We tasted plenty of interesting things, including Wood Sorrel, Siberian Miners' Lettuce, and Indian Plum tree leaves. We were too early for most mushrooms, and way too early for berries, but we talked about them, and Leslie & I are already scheduled to go on a Berry Foraging trip with Langdon on Bainbridge Island in July.
One thing to keep in mind about foraging is that most plants, like Stinging Nettles, are only "in season" for a short time. At a certain stage of growth, many plants lose their flavor, tenderness, and/or become bitter/toxic. Keeping that in mind, realize you might find certain things growing past their prime, but don't be tempted to pick them unless you know they are "safe".
As scary as these warnings might sound, do not be afraid of the young Stinging Nettles you find growing early in springtime; once cooked they are completely edible, full of flavor and high in nutrients, including protein.
Langdon explained to us how to make Stinging Nettle Pesto, which he freezes in ice cube trays so that despite their short season, they can be enjoyed all year 'round.
"All year 'round". A preserver's anthem. Definitely music to my ears.
And now back to the ferns...
Some ferns are toxic so do your homework first!
Soak fern shoots, then remove brown chaff before cooking or pickling
Once cleaned up and trimmed, you can blanch, cook or pickle as desired.
This foraging thing lends itself very nicely to preserving, or as Langdon appropriately calls it "wild preserving". I couldn't wait to do my own wild preserving, so I jumped in with both feet and pickled some fiddlehead-shaped shoots of Lady ferns. Super fun!
For my Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns I started with a basic brine: equal parts water & distilled white vinegar -- with a little sugar, a bit of sea salt, mustard seeds, peppercorns and dill seed. Heat the mixture only until it boils, then stir to dissolve the sugar. Keep the brine warm over low heat.
Then I tightly packed the clean hot jars full of fiddleheads (which I had pre-boiled for 10 minutes, then drained.) I added slivers of fresh garlic to the packed jars, filled them with hot brine, placed a sealing lid & screw-on band on the jars, and processed them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
That's it. Pretty simple.
Now I have a wild & tasty way to garnish salads and antipasto platters, martinis & Bloody Marys.
Pickled Fiddleheads taste a bit like pickled asparagus!