There are some things that are so special and fleeting, you wish there was a way to make them last longer. Delicate spring crops are one of those special things.
After a long, dreary winter when tender greens start emerging and fresh, local produce becomes available again, its a magical time for foodies. Some of the most prized seasonal treasures are only available for a short time, and then that’s it until next year, pending the right conditions for a repeat crop! So if the getting is good, you had better take advantage, savour it, and do whatever you can to extend the pleasure of these temporary delicacies.
My personal favourites this time of year are Fiddleheads, Asparagus, and Scapes. Earthy, crunchy and refreshing, they are the embodiment of spring vibrancy in flavour and texture.
If you’re not familiar with Fiddleheads, they are the coiled up shoot of baby ferns. They are only available for 2 weeks out of the year before the ferns mature and unfurl their fronds. They have a sweet, earthy flavour similar to pea shoots with the fibrous crunch of a snap pea.
Asparagus spears are the tender immature shoots of the perennial vegetable that grows into an impressive 4-5 foot tall feathery fern when left to develop. Asparagus can be found at most grocers year round now, but imported when out of season and at prices that are less-than-desirable. It’s best to take advantage of a local harvest that lasts about 6 weeks in the late spring and early summer.
Scapes are the very first shoots of garlic cloves which contain the flower buds. These crunchy, pungent greens have the texture of a green bean and are a wonderful cross between the flavours of chives, shallots, and garlic. They are harvested to prevent the flower buds from maturing, so the plant puts more energy into developing a larger, more robust bulb. The window to get fresh scapes is also only about a 2 week period and they can usually only be found at a farmers market or specialty grocers. Sadly, this year I missed the fleeting crop of scapes that sold out in 2 days at my local market. However, losing out on the scapes actually led me to a new and quite thrilling discovery of another gourmet ingredient – wild foraged sea asparagus.
Sea asparagus, sea beans, or samphire as they are known, are not asparagus at all – but an edible succulent that grows in marsh areas along coastal waters or salt lakes. They are a slender, branching, crunchy vegetable that can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled or sautéed. They are naturally salty which makes them perfect for lacto-fermenting as well as a fantastic pairing with lemon flavours and/or seafood. I decided I would try these sea asparagus in place of the garlic scapes for some crunch and interest.
If you’re lucky enough to find any or all of these specialty vegetables in the spring, trying combining them for a delightful Spring Medley of bright, fresh flavours. It doesn’t take much to create something special – they can be elevated by simply sautéing with a little bit of butter and served with a crisp Chardonnay. More adventurous recipes include these spring veggies incorporated into pasta dishes here and here, zesty pestos, rich quiches, and dainty crepes. These delightful culinary creations are great while these veg are in season, but what about after their brief season ends?
Try this lacto-fermented recipe to preserve these delicious spring veg to enjoy later in the season:
Lacto-Fermented Spring Medley Veg
- 1 cup asparagus, chopped
- 1/2 cup sea asparagus and/or garlic scapes cut in 1 inch pieces
- 1 cup of fiddleheads, thoroughly cleaned
- 2 cups fermenting brine
- 1/2 cup kombucha
- 1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 1 grape or oak leaf
- lemon zest, optional
First, lightly blanch the fiddleheads to remove any risk of foodborne illness. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, toss in fiddleheads and let boil for 30 seconds until they turn bright green. Remove from boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately toss into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain fiddleheads and squeeze out any excess water from the centre fronds.
Pack vegetables into a sealable Mason or flip-top glass jar. Top with the grape or oak leaf, tucking the edges down, around the sides of the jar. This serves two purposes – first to keep your veggies submerged in the brine and second, they contain tannins to maintain the crispness of your veggies as they ferment. If you don’t have access to these leaves, you may substitute a cabbage leaf.
Top with brine, leaving a 1 inch of headroom space between the lid. Press veg down once more to remove any air bubbles. Leave out at room temp for 3-7 days to ferment to your liking, then transfer to fridge. They will now keep for several months in the fridge. The bright green colour will fade as they ferment, but their flavour and texture will remain as bright and crisp as they are when fresh.
These Lacto-Fermented Spring Medley Veg are an exciting addition to salads, pasta, cheese plates, charcuterie, and more. We hope you enjoy preserving these precious spring flavours as much as we did!