Spring has most definitely sprung! Green thumbs and farmers alike have begun prepping and planting. We have the pleasure of witnessing the bustle in community plots through our kitchen windows. There is something so satisfying and calming about this spectacle. It triggers a huge amount of excitement for us as seeds start sprouting and local bounty starts pouring in. The harvesting period for some early bird produce items is unfairly short. Why take advantage of fleeting items? Once you’ve obtained them, what the heck do you do with them? What’s the point if you only have a week or two a year to enjoy?
Preserving is an incredible and ancient way of storing goods. The season typically associated with this process is Autumn. However, we like to preserve at least three times a year: spring, mid-summer AND fall. Think of it as a way to extend the life of seasonal items so that you can use them in off seasons in creative and unique ways. This year, one of our favourite items to jar is fiddle heads. Admittedly, we’ve been a touch obsessed. This delightful seedling is a young fern plant. It is spiralled and reminiscent of a shepherd’s staff. As it grows, it unravels into the large ferns you know well.
We got in touch with our go-to for wild picked items, Aaron the Forager of Foraged Farmed & Fresh, to share with us his extensive knowledge. Aaron tells us that fiddle heads thrive in moist/damp soil, typically on river beds where water has swelled and then receded. The further you go away from river beds and into woods, the scarcer they become. Aaron harvests fiddle heads with a sharp filet knife. He says, "Harvest with care." Don't cut every head from a single plant as over harvesting will not allow the plant to recuperate; you've effectively destroyed future year's harvests. Once Aaron has gathered what he needs to provide for his clients, he removes the chaff, rinses, bags and stores in a cooler. With this method he is able to store the heads for up to three weeks with minimal oxidization.
Keep in mind that the season to take advantage of these beauties is very short, often having a harvesting period of about one to three weeks. As soon as those heads start unraveling, you’ve lost your optimal time to harvest. So get out there; don't procrastinate or you'll miss out!
Pickled Fiddle Heads Three Ways (raw-pack method)
Yield: 1 L
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 tsp kosher salt
1 lb fiddle heads
1 head dill (dill flower)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp pickling spice
1 tsp peppercorns
2 Thai chilis
2 cloves garlic
Place a 1 L mason jar and its lid into a large pot, high enough to be above the height of the jar. Fill the pot and jar(s) with cold water and bring to a boil (dropping a cold/ room temperature jar into boiling water runs the risk of cracking or shattering the glass). Continue to boil for at least 10 minutes.
Combine water, vinegar and salt in a sauce pot and bring to a boil. This liquid is called a brine. It's important to select a vinegar with at least 5% acetic acid content. You can use a number of different salts including canning/pickling salt, sea salt or kosher salt; just be sure that the salt you're using is not iodized.
Meanwhile, wash and trim your fiddle heads with a paring knife. Washing is an important step; rinsing particulates makes for a much clearer jar of pickles. Without rinsing you may have a jar with "floaties." Trimming may not be necessary if you’ve just foraged or purchased very fresh heads. After a couple days of storage the ends of their stalks where they were cut will start to oxidize. You don’t want to see that in your canned goods.
OK, your cans are sterile, your brine is boiling away and you've selected your herbs and spices. Next remove the cans from the water and place onto a tray. Keep your water boiling away on the stove; you'll be placing the finished cans back in shortly. Add your spices in the bottom of each jar. We're using the raw-pack method here, so place your trimmed, cleaned fiddle heads into each jar, tightly packing almost all the way to the top of the jar, leaving about one inch of head space. Raw-pack simply means your veggies aren't blanched prior to canning. The result: a nice crunchy pickle.
Once your jars are filled take your hot brine liquid and pour over the fiddle heads. Make sure the fiddle heads are covered completely by the liquid. Screw your lids on. Don't go crazy with the tightening at this point, muscles. Finger tight will do. Ensure they are sealed by turning upside-down. Once you know they are tight enough to avoid leakage place back into your pot of boiling water for processing. You'll want to process your cans until the water reaches a vigorous boil. Over-processing can result in wrinkly and/or mushy pickle, so be sure to remove the jars once they've reached boiling point.
Place your hot jars on a tray for cooling. The lids of the jars should start to "pop" once they have cooled. This sound announces the success of your pickling endeavour. You've achieved a hermetic seal. Congratulations, you cool cat. Once all the jars have popped, re-tighten and store on your designated canned goods shelf. This shelf should be in a clean, cool and dry place. Avoid direct sunlight or areas that are exposed to warm temperatures. Any kitchen cupboard away from your stove will do.
The next step is the most difficult in the entire process: patience. You have to gaze into the depth of your picking glory for at least one week before popping open a jar to sample the fruits, or in this case, the veggies of your labour. Once opened, be sure to store your cans in the fridge. Use this brine recipe with any flavour combo you can think of. Experiment, have some fun, take some risks, enjoy the process and feel a connection to your ancestors who didn't have the benefit of refrigeration.