Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fabulous Fireweed and Fiddleheads

The Alaskan summer has arrived in all its glory! There’s nothing quite like watching the grass go from brown to green almost overnight, the buds appear on the trees in what seems like the blink of an eye, and daffodils and tulips pop up in my friends' yards who, unlike me, had the forethought to plant them last fall.
This is truly my favorite time of the summer. My Steamdot view still includes snow on the mountains in the distance, but now also has hints of green close up. School is nearly out – next week, in fact – so the kids are going crazy, staying up late and, in Grant’s case, running around naked in the front yard!
Now that summer is here, the urge to harvest is creeping in. The buds are coming on the trees and the grass is green. Birch sap has been collected – although not by me this year – and pretty soon the fireweed will turn red and the fiddleheads will show up! By the end of the summer the berries will come on and we’ll be heading for the fall. Yes, yes, I know there are fish that come around during the summer too. That’s Gary’s department.
So today I’m planning my summer harvest. This year it’s all about fireweed jelly and pickled fiddlehead ferns. I thought I'd share my plans in an attempt to ensure I actually follow through with them!

Fireweed Jelly
8 cups fireweed blossoms (no stems!)
¼ cup lemon juice
4 ½ cups water
2 pkgs Sure Gel (or other powdered pectin)
5 cups sugar
·         Pick, wash, and measure 8 cups of fireweed blossoms (flower part only!)
·         Add 1/4 cup lemon juice and 4-1/2 cups water.
·         Boil 10 minutes and strain.
·         Take the strained juice and heat to lukewarm. Add 2 pkgs Sure Jell (or other powdered pectin) and bring to boil.
·         Add 5 cups sugar and bring to full boil.
·         Boil hard for 1 minute. Pour into hot clean jars and seal.
·         Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Now for the fiddleheads! These ferns are quite reminiscent of asparagus when pickled. Fiddleheads are also known as trailing wood fern. Pick them when they are still coiled together. Covered with brown coating that is removed before eating. They should always be cooked before eating.

Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns
Fiddlehead Fern, Raw 1 Gallon
Garlic, Raw 8 Cloves
Dill Weed, Dried 1 Cup
Red Pepper 1 Cup
Water 2 Quarts
Apple Cider Vinegar 6 Cups
Pickling Salt 1/2 Cup
·         Pick and clean about one gallon fiddleheads (best with about 3 inches stem and before they curl out).
·         Leave soaking in water until just before using them. Place in a colander to drain.
·         Sterilize jars and lids
·         In large pan, pour 8 cups water, 6 cups apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup pickling salt. This mixture has to be boiling when poured over fiddleheads.
·         Take sterile jars out of water and sit on thick towel. Place equal amounts of garlic in each jar. Place approximately 3 stems of dill weed or about 3/4 tablespoon of store bought dill weed and 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper in each jar with garlic.
·         Stuff drained fiddlestick on top of garlic, dill and peppers. I try to pack mine tight by pushing the fiddleheads down into the jars, otherwise they tend to be bulky and take up a lot of space.
·         Pour boiling vinegar mixture over fiddleheads leaving a small space at top of jar. Quickly cover with sterile lid and ring and tighten immediately. I do this one jar at a time to prevent cooling prior to a good seal.
·         Place all sealed hot jars aside on thick dry dishtowel and cover with potholders and dishtowels to prevent rapid cooling. After jars cool, check that they have sealed properly. Label and let sit in pantry for a month or two.
·         They are best if served chilled.

Another way to prepare fiddleheads is to marinate them. For short term use give this recipe a try!
Marinated Fiddlehead Ferns
4 cups cleaned fiddleheads
12 oz. wine vinegar
5 Tbls Pickling spice
1 cup molasses
2 tsp white pepper
1 cup oil
1 clove garlic
1 tsp onion powder
·         Steam fiddleheads 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside in gallon glass jar or ceramic crock.
·         Place vinegar, pickling spice, molasses, white pepper, oil, garlic and onion powder in a stainless steel pan and bring to boil
·         Pour mixture over fiddleheads and let stand 2-3 days.
·         Strain and serve.
Happy harvesting!