Fiddle Dee Dee: Ostrich Fern Harvest

May 8th, 2018 § Comments Off on Fiddle Dee Dee: Ostrich Fern Harvest § permalink

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) in the Secret Garden

Hoo Wee! It’s fiddlehead season again in Southern Vermont, and don’t you blink or you’ll miss it. Normally just two weeks long, fiddlehead season is particularly short with spring’s late arrival this year. So when I noticed bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and troutlily (Erythronium americanum), beginning to bloom on the forest floor, I rushed right out in the early morning hours with a big harvest basket. Time to visit the damp, woodsy lowlands and forest streams, seeking out the tightest, brightest, green Matteuccia struthiopteris fronds.

It’s Fiddlehead Season! Beautiful in the woodland garden and the dinner plate: Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) 

Matteuccia struthiopteris makes a tall, elegant, ground-covering ornamental in damp shade. Hardy in zones 3-7, it can reach 3-6′ high and its spread, by underground rhizome, can lead to 6-8′ colonies. This is a great plant for naturalizing in a high understory, and for pairing with spring ephemerals; such as Sanguinaria canadensis, Erythronium americanum, Phlox divericata, Tiarella cordifolia, and woodland bulbs of all kinds.

By late spring, Matteuccia struthiopteris makes a lovely, softening backdrop and filler plant toward the back of the border. It’s a great plant for pairing with ephermerals and early-blooming bulbs.

Although I cultivate Ostrich Fern in my secret garden, it also grows wild here in the Vermont woodlands surrounding my studio and home. When I go out foraging for fiddleheads, I look for the deep green, shiny curl of Matteuccia struthiopteris. Often, the fertile, dark brown, spiky fronds —which persist, tough and upright, through the winter months— lead me to the emerald green fiddleheads at the base of each fern. I’m careful to harvest only one or two from each plant.

After Harvest, I Soak Fiddleheads in Cold Water, and Rinse Thoroughly to Remove Sand and Brown, Papery Husks. Once Cleaned, Steam for 7-10 Minutes or Blanch for 10-15. Then, Use in Salads, Stir Fries and Pastas or Bag and Freeze for Later.

Ostrich Fern fiddleheads should not be consumed raw. Instead, after thoroughly cleaned (see instructions above), be sure to steam (7-10 minutes), or blanch (10-15 minutes), fiddleheads to al dente. Once steamed or blanched, these delightful greens may be eaten in a variety of ways. Toss them in a simple soup or salad, sauté in butter as a side dish, add them to favorite pastas and risotto or enjoy them in savory tarts and quiches. Cleaned and sealed in airtight bags, raw fiddleheads will keep fresh several weeks in the fridge. Once steamed or blanched, they may be bagged and frozen for up to 9 months.

Article and Photography copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Heirlooms on Ice: Preserve the Harvest By Freezing Fresh, Whole Tomatoes …

September 4th, 2012 § 6 comments § permalink

Frozen Heirloom Tomatoes: German Pink, Brandywine, Orange Blossom, Green Zebra & Russian Black 

Is it me, or has summer flown by a little too quickly this year? Hard to believe that Labor Day has come and gone, and there are only 2 1/2 more weeks of summer remaining. It’s been a busy season. This is good, of course, but between professional work and other obligations, I’m finding it difficult to keep up with seasonal tasks on the home front. Last year, I managed to put up a great deal of garden-fresh produce. This season, I’m in a crunch and find myself freezing more fruits and vegetables, in order to preserve them quickly and move onto other tasks …

Wheel of Wonder: Heirlooms in Various Shapes & Colors

I love cooking with fresh tomatoes and, although the killing frost is but a month away, thanks to my freezer I will be enjoying homemade tomato sauce and the flavor of fresh tomatoes in all of my cooked recipes, all winter long. Freezing raw, heirloom tomatoes is one of the quickest and simplest ways to preserve the colors and flavors of summertime. Find your garden producing more tomatoes than you have time to eat or can? Tomatoes can be frozen cooked or raw, skin on or skin off, whole, cut into sections, pureed or juiced. I preserve tomatoes in a variety of ways, but when I’m very busy  —and who isn’t?— I simply freeze tomatoes without blanching or skinning. Later, I pull the tomatoes out and then blanch them (you can remove the skin just as easily after freezing and blanching) and can them, or thaw them and use as-is in my cooking throughout the winter months (freezing does destroy the firm texture, so don’t substitute frozen tomatoes for fresh in uncooked recipes). Follow the simple steps below to freeze raw tomatoes whole, and then process or add to cooked-recipes later. This method works so beautifully, I find myself wondering… Can I find a way to zip-lock and freeze a little more summertime?

Select Only the Highest-Quality Tomatoes for Freezing; No Bruises, Gashes or Mold. Wash the Tomatoes and Gently Pat them Dry Before Freezing.

Freezing Whole, Raw Tomatoes with Skin On

1) Select firm, ripe fruits for freezing. Choose the same high-quality tomatoes that you would use for a fresh tomato salad. Avoid over-ripe fruits with bruises or holes and never freeze tomatoes with any sign of mold.

2) Wash and gently pat the tomatoes dry with a lint-free towel

3) Slice the top of each tomato with a shallow “X” to prevent bursting

4) Place tomatoes (“X” up) on a cookie sheet or in freezer-safe dish and freeze until solid

5) Remove the tomatoes from the freezer. Label and date large sized zip-lock bags (a quart sized baggie fits about 3 heirloom tomatoes). Slip the frozen tomatoes into zip-lock bags according to how you will use them: measuring by weight works well if you will be using them for sauce, or you can just fill each bag and measure later. Press out extra air and zip securely closed.

6) Return bagged tomatoes to the freezer and use within 8 months for best flavor. Try them thawed and used in sauces, stews, soups, juices and pastes. You can also blanch the still frozen tomatoes and remove skins. Use the thawed tomatoes in all cooked recipes as you would fresh tomatoes, but don’t substitute thawed, frozen tomatoes for fresh tomatoes in recipes, as the texture is ruined by freezing. See steps below for blanching and removing skins from frozen tomatoes (yes, you can postpone that step and do it later)!

Prevent Explosion Upon Re-Entry by Marking the Tomatoes with a Shallow “X”. Place with “X” Facing Up and Arrange on Cookie Sheets or Freezer-Safe Pans. Stick in the Freezer Overnight.

Remove Tomatoes from Freezer and Weigh or Bag Up According to Anticipated Use. Here, Whole Tomatoes, Bagged Up & Ready for Processing Later. Be Sure to Date and Label Your Baggies and Use Produce within 8 Months for Best Flavor.

You can also puree or juice fresh tomatoes for use in recipes later. I also like to freeze fresh, homemade tomato sauce and tomato/vegetable stock. Always use containers intended for freezing and label/date ingredients. Sun-dried tomatoes are another low-labor way to preserve these heirloom treasures. Visit this page for more ideas on preserving the harvest by freezing and drying herbs, tomatoes and other produce. And for an easy intro to canning, check out my friend Jennifer Audette’s guest post on Dilly Beans —with canning resources— here.

For important safety tips and helpful hints on the subject of food preservation —canning/freezing, etc— please visit the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation online here.

Preserving Lightly Cooked & Pureed Sauce and Stock (Tomato Juice) in Freezer-Safe Containers

Fresh-Frozen Whole Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Puree and Homemade Sauce, All Ready for the Freezer

Beyond Freezing, Drying and Canning Tomatoes, I Also Try to Extend the Fresh Season by Utilizing Hoop-House Cold Frames. Click Here for Easy Tutorial Post & Build Your Own Mini Greenhouse!

Addendum: Yes, You Can Remove Skins After Freezing Tomatoes!

This frozen, whole tomato was blanched in boiling water for about one minute. You can see the loosened skin. As soon as the skin is loose, remove tomatoes from water with a straining ladle, as shown.

I’ve received a number of questions sent via email about removing the skins after freezing the tomatoes. Yes, you can easily remove the skins after freezing. You can do this when they are still frozen solid (works very well, actually, and is easier on your hands). Simply plunge the frozen tomatoes into boiling water for a minute or two, until the skins loosen, and then remove from boiling water with a straining ladle. Allow tomatoes to cool for a minute or two, then slip the skins off with your hands. They will come off very easily. Now, place tomatoes in a bowl and allow them to continue thawing in the refrigerator until you are ready to make dinner! You can now add them to your favorite recipe (use them for stews, tomato sauce, etc), or follow USDA instructions for canning (linked below).

Skin easily slips from the still-frozen, blanched tomato (see it there, all wrinkly and cleanly pulled?). Now, place the tomatoes in a bowl, in your refrigerator and continue to thaw until it’s time to make dinner! Add to your favorite cooked recipes. The texture of thawed tomatoes is too mushy for salsa or salad… But great for sauce. You can also can previously frozen tomatoes. Follow USDA guidelines (linked above) for safely canning food.

If you are going to preserve the tomatoes by canning, thaw them and then prepare them as you normally would. Take all of the same safety precautions. I can not stress how important it is to follow the steps for canning recommended by the USDA (linked here). This post is intended for temporarily freezing tomatoes for thawing and re-using in cooked recipes.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Preserving the Harvest: Fresh-Frozen Herbs in Oil, Butter, Broth or Water…

August 26th, 2010 § 51 comments § permalink

Frozen Herb Cubes with Olive Oil: Photographs Copyright Michaela Medina –

At six o’clock this morning, I was rather annoyed to be awakened by a gang of squawking bluejays. But when I rose, I discovered a beautiful rainbow on the western horizon. Suddenly, I found myself feeling more than grateful for the wake-up call from the noisy, blue boys in my ‘hood. The rain has ended for now, and the morning sun is warm on the terrace, where I have set up my office for the day. But before I start work on plant lists for a garden design I’m working on, I have a neat garden project to share with you. Inclement weather kept me indoors early this week, providing me with a bit of free time and the opportunity to freeze fresh herb-cubes for winter. This project is simple and fun; easy as making fruit-pops and a great way to teach children about preserving food from the garden. If you also make a few juice pops at the same time —to reward the little helping hands— so much the better!

Fresh Herbs from the Garden

Begin by gathering empty ice cube trays (or egg cups or small freezer molds), zip-lock or other storage bags, and bundles of fresh herbs from the garden. Bring the herbs inside, and as you wash, dry and pick through the leaves, think about how you might like to use them over the coming months. Do you make lots of soup in winter? Set aside a few bundles of your favorite soup herbs. These can be frozen in cubes of room-temperature water, vegetable broth or chicken/beef bouillon. Do you like to fry or roast with herbs? Bundles of your favorite cooking herbs can be preserved by freezing them in vegetable oil (I like to use light olive oil for high-temp pan frying). If you like to use herb butters or herb-infused oils for bread dipping, you can freeze them in butter (softened or melted over very low heat and cooled a bit) or in extra virgin olive oil, to pull out of the freezer later and enjoy at room temperature all winter long.

Separating Fresh Herb Leaves for Simple Frozen Oil Cubes

Tear or chop the herbs into small pieces or individual leaves, depending upon how you plan to use them at a later date. Next, load ice cube trays, egg cups or other freezer molds with the clipped herbs. You can separate individual herbs into molds or you can mix them in combinations you frequently use together. I make both individual herb cubes and various combinations. I started with olive-oil cubes for pan-frying this time. Once my compartments were filled with herbs, I began filling the cubes with oil, topping each herb mold with one or two tablespoons of light (frying) olive oil. Then I made herb cups with melted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Finally I put away large quantities of herbs preserved in vegetable broth (you can use any kind of broth) and water (for herb tea and soup).

Simple Cubes of  Olive Oil with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil with Fresh Rosemary – Ready to Stick in the Freezer

Once the molds are filled, freeze them overnight. You may wish to make a note of the herb content and oil/water measurement in each tray. Once frozen, it can be tricky to identify the herbs. I do freeze in batches and make notes to avoid confusion later. Once removed from the freezer, pop the cubes from the trays and slip them into labeled plastic bags. I write the name(s) of the herbs, the fluid measurement, and the date on my bags. Then, I store them flat in the freezer (they should remain in separate units, unless they melt – so work quickly!). Now, you can enjoy fresh herbs in your cooking all winter long, at a fraction of the market cost!

After Freezing for 24 Hours – Remove the Cubes from the Trays and Separate into Labeled Ziplock Bags. Store Flat in the Freezer.

There are many ways to preserve and store your garden produce. This particular method of freezing herbs has been around for a long time —my mother and grandmother used to preserve them in this way— and it works very well. If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve your garden produce, I highly recommend the two books pictured and linked below, which I reviewed for Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety Blog in June (click here to read the post on B&N, where you can also purchase either book). Both titles contain new & old ideas —freezing, drying, root-cellaring and more— for preserving the harvest.

Buy How to Store Your Garden Produce from or Barnes and Noble

Buy Putting Food By at or Barnes and Noble

An Early Morning Visit to the Potager – Gathering Herbs and Edible Flowers for Lunch

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden



All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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