How to Find, Identify and Cook Fiddleheads
Stroll around your local farmers market or health food store in early spring and you might find some odd-looking, quarter-sized green rolls called fiddleheads. . They are named for their resemblance to the decorative tips of necks and other stringed instruments. Because before you can say “fiddleheads”, they are gone!
What are Fiddleheads?
Fiddleheads are ferns before they become ferns. They are the hairy stage of a fern when they only begin to sprout through the ground in the spring. When they emerge through fertile and wet ground in April, they grow and expand rapidly, sometimes lasting only a few days during their fur growth phase. Synonymous with the word “fiddlehead”. Their taste is often described as somewhere between asparagus, broccoli and spinach. I’ve heard of some specialty stores selling them for $20 a pound! But you can harvest them yourself for free! You just need to know where to look and that’s what makes fiddleheads special.
Where Do I Find Fiddleheads?
Fiddleheads thrive throughout New England and eastern parts of Canada. But unlike many wild plankton that grow everywhere, like dandelions, scarab beetles grow in wild and humid areas. And that’s why I love looking for them. They are more suitable to take you a bit off the beaten path into Nature, along river edges, stream banks and marshy areas. And I feel the same way! Anyway, part of the fun is that you found them yourself. There’s nothing like stumbling across a patch that no one else knows about. If necessary, write it down so you don’t forget it for the future. I have a notebook of six places I’ve found over the past few years.
How to recognize Fiddleheads?
I would recommend an experienced guide for the first time to be on the safe side. Some species of fiddlehead look like ostrich ferns and are not only inedible but can also be poisonous. A few years ago I did a couple of wild hikes with some experienced herbalists and they were very helpful. Here are a few suggestions I recommend: The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer Lee Allen Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants When you see them for the first time, carnivores will become very easy to spot. They are bright green in color and can easily be seen among the dark soil, twigs and leaves from which they grow. They grow in clumps of about six plants. Here are some photos of some of the clusters just beginning to see through the earth:This is probably a little too early to choose. But aren’t they pretty? I think they look like little green dragons sleeping. But once they look over, they start to grow rapidly! Here are some that are primed and ready to harvest:They will remain tightly coiled until they reach about 4 to 6 inches in height. When you come across a good patch, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of them growing together, and some will grow faster than others. All the photos in this blog are taken from the same patch on the same day. But after a few weeks, all of them will disappear. Here is a photo of a cluster that cannot be harvested:When they grow a few inches above the ground, they have three distinguishing characteristics. The first is the bright green stem that we have seen. The second is the paper-like, feathery brown material that covers the sides of the coil. So:The material may fall off on its own, or you may pick it up yourself. And the third feature is the deep groove on the inside of the trunk. So:
How to select Fiddleheads?
Pick them up before they pop out, when they’re about one to four inches tall. You can simply pinch and snap the stem about half an inch to an inch from the top of the coil. Look for scarabs that wrap more tightly, and don’t be afraid to remove leaves, twigs, and logs. Sometimes you’ll find larger ones in cooler and hidden areas. Never choose a clean lump. Leave at least a few fiddleheads unselected. Otherwise, the fern will die.
How to cook Fiddleheads?
First, make sure you cook them! You can get sick if you eat it raw or cook it not for long enough. Make sure you cook them thoroughly but don’t overcook them. Boil in water for about five to seven minutes or steam for ten to twelve minutes. Then, lightly sauté in butter. That’s it! For a great book with 75 recipes for the hardcore minded, check out this great little book:You can use fiddleheads just like you would any vegetable. They work great with egg dishes like omelettes and chips, great with pasta dishes, soups and stir-fries but can also work alone as an accompaniment to meat and fish. I ate them the night before with lamb and mashed potatoes, they’re best right after picking but they’ll last in your fridge for at least a week. You can even have early fish in the middle of winter as they can stay frozen for up to a year.
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