Preserving Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are the first vegetable that I preserve every year.  The easiest way to explain fiddleheads to those who have never encountered them before is that they are, basically, baby ferns, still curled and coiled up into small, tightly wound balls.  We’re lucky enough to have a small patch less than 100 yards from our house, but they tend to grow in moist, well-shaded areas in the Northeast (I’ve found them in both Maine and Vermont).  Having a very short season, fiddleheads usually emerge from the ground at just about the time that leaves start to unfurl from their buds.  We’ve found that we have to be particularly careful because there is such a short window between edible fiddleheads and nearly mature ferns (their fronds spreading up toward the sky).

The fiddleheads we eat in Northern Maine come from the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).  They are identifiable by a brown, tissue-paper-like membrane that usually covers the tight spiral of the fiddlehead.  They are often found in small clumps, low to the ground.

To cook fresh fiddleheads , I clean them (as described below), steam them for 10 – 12 minutes and serve them with butter (for Jason) or just a bit of salt/vinegar for me.

To preserve fiddleheads, I usually begin by submersing them in cold water for at least an hour.  Once this is complete, I use a wire mesh strainer under the faucet to wash away the papery-liners before separating the clean fiddleheads from those that haven’t been cleaned yet. If I was using them fresh, I would stop at this point and cook them; however, to preserve them, I follow the steps outlined below.

Soaking in the Sink

While I am cleaning the fiddleheads, I heat a large pot of water on the stove (my jam pot).

Once all of the fiddleheads are clean, I submerse them in boiling water for one minute to blanch before placing them immediately into ice cold water (back in the sink).  Once they are cold to the touch (when removed from the water), I place towels on cookie sheets and spread the fiddleheads on the towels, gently rolling the towels into logs and leaving them for about fifteen minutes to absorb the water from the fiddleheads.

Finally, I pack the fiddleheads into freezer bags, removing as much air as I can before placing them in the freezer.

To use the fiddleheads, I simply remove a bag from the freezer, pour the correct amount into a vegetable steamer and steam the fiddleheads until tender (about 10 – 15 minutes).


6 thoughts on “Preserving Fiddleheads

  1. I’ve got 26 quarts done about another 6 ready to be cleaned, and if the rain holds out I might pick tomorrow. I think what ever I pick now will be given to some older people in the community. I like to make sure I have at least 30 quarts in the freezer.

  2. I really should look to see if I could find those here. I know we have various ferns but I have had trouble seeing them as tight fiddleheads. I have read about these many times but never tried them.

  3. It rained all day but I didn’t let it stop me because I know they won’t be around for long. I’m guessing about another 20 quarts today. I’ve had some people call and want to buy some so if I can freeze enough for us plus make $20 or $30 thats pretty good.

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