I have lived in the same town for 21 years now; and for as long as I can remember people in this area have always had a love for fiddleheads. To be quite honest for a long time, I really had no idea what a fiddlehead was exactly. I grew up with the usual meal plan of meat, potatoes and a vegetable. All of our food was bought at the local grocery store. There was no hunting or gathering and no farming in my family (except for my grandparents). I am not the most adventurous eater, I am very cautious about trying new foods; textures are a hard thing for me to overcome. However, in the lifestyle we are choosing to live, I have had to adapt and move out of my comfort zone. Here on our homestead, we raise some of our meat, Matt hunts, and we try very hard to keep a garden. One area we have really overlooked in our journey is foraging. The areas around us provide some great foods to supplement our diet and palate. This year we have made it a goal to forage more foods and since spring has finally begun here in Maine, its fiddlehead time.
What is a fiddlehead?
Trust me, years ago I asked this same question. What is a fiddlehead and why the heck our people going crazy over them? To put it simply, a fiddlehead is a fern that is unfurled. But there is really only one fern that is edible; the ostrich fern. This is the fern that we would be looking for an harvesting. So we began to do some research on fiddleheads; we learned about proper identification and preparation. Both of these things are critical for food safety, improper identification or preparation can lead to illness. So before you go out looking for fiddleheads be sure you know exactly what you are looking for! Below are some pictures for reference (but please if you are unsure of proper identification find someone to help!)
So let’s first look at what not to pick–see the picture below. These ferns are covered in a white fuzz, this is very distinct. The stalks are round. These ferns are NOT edible.
Here is what you need to be looking for–
This is the ostrich fern, it can be identified by the U shaped channel on the inside of the stalk and the brown paper covering.
Again if you are unsure about identification, take someone along to help you!
Now you have found a great spot to harvest some edible fiddleheads (be sure you have permission to harvest–I know all these rules!). So get to work picking them!! You should pick ones where the brown paper covering is flaking off (trust me on this one–I am speaking from experience), this makes the cleaning process much easier. Try and pick about an inch below the head of the fern. You don’t need any special tools for picking; just your hands and a bucket. I don’t pick every single one I see, I do leave some and don’t pick any that have unfurled.
Okay so I mentioned above about picking ones that have the brown paper covering flaking off. You see, we are new at this process and I think we got a little excited and carried away. Some of the fiddleheads we picked could have probably been left a day or two. The brown paper covering was stuck on them like glue, making the cleaning process much more difficult than it needed to be. So how do you get the paper covering off? Gently shake the fiddleheads in the bucket, you should start to see much of the paper coverings coming off, then put them in a strainer and wash off any remaining. Once they are cleaned it time to get cooking!!
Preparation and Cooking
Now that your fiddlehead are all clean, put them in a pot of boiling water for 7-10 minutes. After this boil you will notice the water is brown, drain and rinse the fiddleheads. I choose to sauté fiddleheads in garlic and olive oil, some may choose to just boil them until tender or steam them. That choice is completely yours.
I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t nervous about trying fiddleheads, I even prepared an extra vegetable just in case and I actually did not give my kids any fiddleheads on their dinner plates. I would not say I am a very picky eater but I am very weary of new tastes. The fiddleheads were amazing!! My daughter even was upset when I did not put any on her plate to try, so I did and she loved them!! We can see now why so many people get fiddlehead crazy this time of year. The funniest thing is we have a patch of fiddleheads behind our house, we have live here for 9 years and never touched one!! All that goodness was so close to us but we disregarded it. It is sad that fiddleheads have such a short harvest time but they make a great spring treat, especially after a long winter.
Check out our YouTube video on our harvest, preparation and cooking of fiddleheads.