Fabulous Fiddleheads

Every year, spring is filled with much anticipation for the fabulous fiddlehead!  Never heard of a fiddlehead?  They are the curled new fronds that emerge from the Ostrich fern, or Matteuccia struthiopteris.  The young growth can be eaten and is quite a local delicacy!  They are a glossy green with a papery brown, scaly covering. The flavor is fresh, earthy and maybe a bit like asparagus but really these little spirals have a flavor all of their own.

Spring soul food, fiddleheads!
Spring soul food, fiddleheads!

Fiddleheads are not only delicious, they are very good for you.  They provide a good source of fiber, Vitamins C and A, and Omega fatty acids.  Not too shabby!

Where To Find Fiddleheads?

Where do they grow?  Fiddleheads thrive on river and stream banks.  You may be able to identify the Ostrich fern in summer and return the following spring to harvest the tender new growth.  Fiddleheads range from Alaska to the Northeast, British Colombia, northern and southern parts of Canada.  They can also be found near the Great Lakes and Southern Appalachians.

A full grown Ostrich fern.
A full grown Ostrich fern.

Finding fiddleheads can be a bit tricky.  First, make sure they are indeed fiddlehead ferns.  I actually don’t have a place to go harvest them.  In many parts of Maine they are plentiful, but here on the coast fiddlehead patches are a closely guarded secret.  I can show you my fiddlehead patch but… you get the picture!  I buy mine at a local health food store or farm stand.  The best deals are found roadside.  Locals make a quick spring income on their harvest.  When I was growing up, a family friend used to bring them over by the five gallon bucket.  Paying for them seems silly but they are only here for a very short time.

Fiddlehead ferns or Ostrich ferns.
Fiddlehead ferns or Ostrich ferns.

As usual, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension has some substantial information on identifying fiddlehead ferns properly.  Fiddlehead biology and proper harvest are discussed in Bulletin # 2540, Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads.  You can find more than you ever wanted to know in Bulletin #4198, Facts on Fiddleheads including tons of fiddlehead recipes.

It is usually necessary to clean freshly harvested fiddleheads.  A good soaking with several water changes will do the trick.  Pick off the papery covering as you go.

Getting ready to steam some fiddleheads.
Getting ready to steam some fiddleheads.

Cooking Methods

When I worked as a waitress, the diner where I worked served fiddleheads in many ways.  Quiche, cream of fiddlehead soup, as a side dish and the ever popular, deep fried and served with Ranch dressing!  Yes, this was the much sought after appetizer!  I can still taste them.

At our house, we usually steam them.  Some people saute  or boil them and serve with butter or vinegar.  I was surprised to find that the previously mentioned articles said that no one should ever eat raw fiddlehead ferns.  Apparently they have been the source of some food born illnesses.

Getting ready to make fiddlehead pesto.
Getting ready to make fiddlehead pesto.

Last week, I picked some garlic chives from the garden and put together a pesto.  I added the fiddleheads, chives, parmesan cheese and olive oil to my mini food processor.  I guess after finding out about the raw fiddlehead issue, I would briefly steam them next time.  The result was a creamy, comforting pasta topping!  A definite keeper!

Finished product. Fiddlehead and garlic chive pesto!
Finished product. Fiddlehead and garlic chive pesto!

To preserve all of that fiddlehead goodness, some people love pickling them.  Blanching and freezing are also good options.

If you are interested in more information on foraging for wild food, check out Enjoying and Preserving Dandelion Greens.  I hope you get to try fiddleheads before the season is over.  Thanks for giving this article a read!  Feel free to subscribe in sidebar!

Hilary|Everlongardener