Spring Greens: Pickled Fiddleheads


The long winter has wound down. The apples and cabbage in the root cellar are now pig food and the potatoes good for nothing but seed. I’m hungry for something green and fresh but, up here in the New England hills, asparagus season is still weeks away.

This is where I should extol the pleasures of Fiddleheads, one of the first spring edibles and a delicacy people pay upwards of $8 a pound for in the valley groceries. But here’s the thing. I’m not really a fan. I’ll eat them although I find them best hidden in the eggs and cheese of an omelet. Alone, I find them a bit bland and unpleasant. In fact, I had given up harvesting them at all until I tasted a pickled fiddlehead. Once again, I’m a believer.

You must make these pickles as soon as you harvest your fiddles as this is one vegetable with a very short shelf life. Because of this, be sure you have everything on hand before you head out with your basket and knife. Snip off only the tight coil of the fern, get it home and clean it well. All of the brown paper covering must be removed and the ferns must be washed, washed and washed again to get all the sand out. You will need a quart of ferns for this recipe. That should be easy, as where you find one fern you will likely find dozens.

Just-harvested fiddleheads. The brown papery covering must be removed and the ferns washed well before pickling.
Just-harvested fiddleheads. The brown papery covering must be removed and the ferns washed well before pickling.

In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil:
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup water
6 big cloves garlic (if you are using last year’s garlic and it’s losing flavor you can add more)
1 small dried chili to taste (I don’t like too much heat. Feel free to add more.)
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2.5 tablespoons pickling spice (be sure to include peppercorns and mustard seed in the mix)

Simmer the brine for about 5 minutes. While the mixture simmers, divide the fiddleheads between four canning jars. If you can find fresh dill add a head to each jar. If not then you can make do with some dill seed. I like to add a sprig of thyme if I have some too. Pour the brine over the fiddleheads. Process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. These should cure for a few weeks to let the flavor develop the flavor.

Serve a slice of toasted baguette spread with some fresh goat cheese and a single fiddlehead. It looks elegant and tastes fabulous.

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