As the fiddlehead ferns are starting to dwindle in our areas in Minnesota, facing a commercial fridge packed full of them means I need to work quickly to preserve some for the coming months. When I pick a large amount of something, I usually set aside a nice amount to preserve, whether it be by canning, freezing, pickling, salting, brining, drying, or fermenting.
There are plenty of recipes for pickled fiddleheads out there, but this one is different. A common problem with pickling green vegetables is that they tend to get mushy from the canning process. Asparagus suffers from this, and gets stringy and unappealing, especially if the spears are packed into a jar and bent, fiddleheads pose the same problem.
You want to pickle fiddles to preserve your bounty, but they can be tricky to execute. A couple minutes too long in water bath canner, or a few too many ingredients in the pickle liquid can ruin a whole batch, and cost you a lot of time.
The kicker too is that with all the pickle recipes out there, its hard to know which one is the best. Of all the things I hear people complain about when talking about recipes for pickled fiddleheads, what seems to stand out is how to keep them crunchy. I’ve made hundreds of different types of pickles, pickling liquids, fermented pickles, etc. There is a special trick to keeping them crunchy. You may be skeptical at first, but it works.
Basically, pickling is a method of preserving things in a liquid with a low ph. The heat of the water bath canner can be thought of as over-kill, since bacteria wouldn’t be able to live in liquid with a ph under 4.6 anyway. Now I’m not saying that you should stop using a water bath canner for your pickles, I’m just saying keep an open mind for a moment.
My secret:the upside down canning hack
A while ago my friend showed me a technique that he uses for pickled asparagus at home. I don’t often like to say that I use shortcuts, but this one is really fantastic. He puts boiling pickle liquid into the jars and fills them all the way to the top, that’s right: all the way. Then he turns the jars upside down and leaves them over night to cool.
What happens is that the jars form a hermetic seal just like if you were to water bath process them. The pressure and heat of the boiling water is what does the trick. Since the jars haven’t been sterilized by boiling in the water bath though, you need to fill them to the very top of the jar, which you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do since the pressure could make them explode in the water bath.
If you don’t want to keep your fiddlehead pickles at room temp in the pantry, you can always just blanch them, then cover with cold pickle liquid and pack them in the fridge, where they will stay extra, extra, crisp. Make sure they’re covered with pickling liquid completely.
Crunchy Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns
- 2-2.5 lbs of the youngest tightest fiddlehead ferns you can find
- 2 cups vinegar like apple cider, white, or white wine/champagne vinegar
- 4 cups water
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 4-5 small cloves of garlic lightly crushed
- 1-2 sprigs of fresh dill or your favorite herb per jar
- A 1inch peel of lemon zest for each jar
- 1.5 gallons water for blanching the ferns
- Bring the 4 cups water, salt, lemon zest, garlic, and thyme to a boil, allow to sit for 5 minutes, then add the vinegar.
- Bring the 1.5 gallons of water to a rolling boil. Add the fiddlehead ferns to the pot, then cook for exactly 1.5 minutes (90 seconds) covering the pot to increase the heat, stirring the fiddles occasionally to ensure even blanching. Immediately remove the fiddleheads to cold water to stop their cooking.
- When the fiddleheads are cool, remove them and drain very well in a colander, pressing on them lightly to remove any excess water. (You don't want them to absorb water and dilute your pickle liquid).
- Let the fiddleheads come to room temp for a while, about an hour or so, to make sure they don't cool down the pickling liquid too fast.
- Pack a pint jar full of fiddleheads, placing a piece of lemon zest, a clove of garlic, and a sprig of thyme in each jar (or whatever flavorings you're using). Reheat the pickle liquid to rolling boil, and pour into the jars, covering all of the fiddleheads, up to the very top of the jar. Screw on the lids and and turn the jars upside down. Leave the jars to cool, for a few hours like this.
- After the jars are completely cool, inspect the jars, you will find they have formed hermetic seals, just as if you were to use a water bath canner, but without the excess heat and time that would make them soft. Voila! Crisp pickled fiddleheads. Look over the jars carefully to make sure they've all formed seals. Refrigerate any that haven't sealed.