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Fiddleheads

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Joined: 06 February 2010
Location: Cumberland, RI
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    Posted: 25 February 2012 at 04:21

Since it is that time of the year...I thought we'd take a look at fiddleheads today

Facts on Fiddleheads
Originally developed by Extension Professor Mahmoud El-Begearmi.
Revised and updated by Food Science Professor Alfred Bushway, Extension Food Science Specialist Beth Calder, and Extension Professional David Fuller.
Ostrich fern fiddlehead showing brown papery covering
Ostrich fern fiddlehead showing smooth grooved stem
Ostrich fern fiddleheads have a papery brown covering. Their stems are smooth, with a deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside. Photos by David Fuller

Fiddleheads, an early spring delicacy in Maine, are the young coiled leaves of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Nearly all ferns have fiddleheads, but those of the ostrich fern are unlike any other. Ostrich fern fiddleheads, which are about an inch in diameter, can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the fern stem. Look for ostrich ferns emerging in clusters of about three to twelve fiddleheads each on the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks in April and May. Make sure that you have landowner permission before harvesting fiddleheads.

Harvest the tender little rolls of ostrich fern as soon as they are an inch or two above the ground. Carefully brush off and remove the papery brown scales. Thoroughly wash fiddleheads in clean, potable water several times until the wash water appears clean. Then bring a small amount of lightly salted water to a boil, add washed fiddleheads, and cook them at a steady boil for 10 minutes. Fiddleheads can also be washed clean and steamed for 20 minutes. Serve at once with melted butter or vinegar. The sooner they are eaten, the more delicate their flavor. They may be served, like asparagus, on toast. Cooked, chilled fiddleheads can be also served as a salad with an onion and vinegar dressing.

Due to the short season for fiddleheads, some people like to preserve them for later use. To freeze fiddleheads, clean them as you would for the table. Blanch a small amount at a time for two minutes in 4 to 6 cups of water. Cool and drain in cold water or in an ice water bath (half water and half ice). Pack into moisture- and vapor-proof containers and freeze. Thaw and boil for 10 minutes before serving.

Remember to keep fiddleheads refrigerated until you are ready to cook or preserve them. Because process times have not been established for home-preserved fiddleheads, we do not recommend pressure canning as a method to preserve fiddleheads.

Many people are interested in pickling fiddleheads. In cooperation with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine, UMaine Extension staff have tested some pickling recipes for fiddleheads. The most successful of these in terms of flavor, keeping quality, and safety are included in this fact sheet.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness associated with fiddleheads. The implicated ferns were eaten either raw or lightly cooked (sautéed, parboiled or microwaved), which was what caused a food-borne illness outbreak in British Columbia in 1990. Although a toxin has not been identified in the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern, the findings of this investigation suggest that you should cook fiddleheads thoroughly before eating (boil them for at least 10 minutes).

 

Shrimp and Fiddlehead Medley

1 pound fiddleheads
6 ounces linguine, uncooked
6 cups water
1-3/4 pounds Maine shrimp, fresh or frozen
1 teaspoon margarine
2/3 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Cut off ends of fiddleheads. Remove scales and wash thoroughly. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan; add shrimp and cook three to five minutes, or until done. Drain well, and set aside. Cook fiddleheads in boiling water for ten minutes. Drain. Coat a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray; add margarine. Heat until margarine melts. Add onion and green pepper and sauté until crisp-tender. Stir in fiddleheads. Meanwhile, cook pasta as directed, without salt or oil. Drain well, set aside and keep warm.

Add sliced mushrooms, thyme, pepper, salt and celery seeds to vegetable mixture; stir well. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat three to four minutes or until mushrooms are tender, stirring often. Stir in shrimp and lemon juice; cook until heated through, stirring often.

Place pasta on a large platter. Spoon shrimp mixture on top. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Fiddlehead Dijon

1-1/2 pounds fresh fiddleheads
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup nonfat buttermilk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Clean and prepare fiddleheads. Remove scales and wash thoroughly. Place fiddleheads in a vegetable steamer over boiling water. Cover and steam 20 minutes or until tender, but still crisp. Set aside, and keep warm.

Combine cornstarch and buttermilk in a small saucepan; stir well. Cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in mustard, lemon juice, tarragon and pepper.

Arrange fiddleheads on a serving platter. Spoon sauce over fiddleheads. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

 

 

Plain and Pickled Fiddleheads

cider vinegar
sugar
1/8 teaspoon each of pepper, ground nutmeg, cinnamon,
     allspice and celery seed

Pour enough vinegar over the fiddleheads to cover; then strain it off into a pan. Add 1 cup sugar for every gallon of vinegar. Add a large pinch of each of the spices and celery seed. Boil this syrup for 7-8 minutes; then pour over the fiddleheads in pint-sized jars. Seal and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water process canner.

Sweet Pickled Fiddleheads

1 quart cider vinegar
5 cups sugar
2 teaspoons salt

Mix vinegar, sugar and salt in saucepan; bring to a boil, pour over fiddleheads in pint-sized jars; seal; process 10 minutes in boiling water process canner. Makes 6 pints.

 

 

Sugar-Free Fiddlehead Pickles

1 gallon vinegar
1 teaspoon powdered saccharin (if desired)
1 teaspoon powdered alum
1/2 cup salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered cloves
1 teaspoon powdered allspice
1 tablespoon powdered cinnamon
1/2 cup dry mustard

Pack fiddleheads into jars; pour enough liquid to cover fiddleheads; seal at once. Process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Let stand at least two weeks before using. If the product is to be sold, it may be necessary to check with the Food and Drug Administration on the use of saccharin in this type of product.

 

Mustard Fiddlehead Pickles

1 quart button onions (peeled)
1 quart fiddleheads
2 cups salt
4 quarts water
1 cup flour
6 tablespoons dry mustard
2 cups sugar
2 quarts vinegar 

Wash and prepare button onions and fiddleheads. Mix salt and water. Pour over fiddleheads. Let stand overnight. Bring to boil, and drain in colander. Mix flour and dry mustard. Stir in enough vinegar to make smooth paste. Add sugar and vinegar. Boil until thick and smooth, stir constantly. Add the fiddleheads and cook until they are just heated through. (Overcooking makes them soft instead of crisp.) Pour into jars and seal immediately. Process 10 minutes in boiling water process canner.Makes 8 pints.

Quick Sour Fiddlehead Pickles

1/2 gallon cider vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup mustard seed

Mix ingredients, bring to boil. Pour over fiddleheads in pint-sized jars; seal; process 10 minutes in boiling water process canner.

 

 

Bread and Butter Fiddlehead Pickles

4 pounds fiddleheads
3 large onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup salt
cold water
3 trays ice cubes
5 cups sugar
5 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds

In 8-quart enamel, stainless steel or glass container, stir fiddleheads, onions, salt and enough cold water to cover fiddleheads until salt dissolves; stir in ice. Cover; let stand in cool place 3 hours. Drain fiddleheads and rinse with cold running water; drain thoroughly.

Measure sugar, vinegar, turmeric, celery seeds and mustard seeds into 8-quart Dutch oven or heavy saucepan. Over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; simmer, uncovered 30 minutes, stirring often. Meanwhile, prepare jars and caps. Add fiddleheads and onions to Dutch oven; heat to boiling. Spoon hot fiddleheads into hot jars to 1/4 inch from the top. Immediately ladle syrup over fiddleheads. Process 10 minutes in boiling water process canner. Cool jars and test for air tightness. Makes about 6 pints.

Special NoteOur tests showed that the pH of these pickled fiddleheads ranged between 3.35–3.74 (liquid) and 3.38–3.78 (solids). This is important to ensure microbiological food safety. It is also important that you follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to assure the safety and quality of the pickled fiddleheads, including sanitation and sterilization of jars and lids. All fiddlehead products should be hot-packed and processed for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.



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