You may not have heard of Fiddlehead ferns; however they were one of the first greens to come up in the spring in New England that were edible and tasty. These delicacies show up beginning in May and last through early July. What exactly are these deep green, coiled vegetables, though? Fiddleheads are actually young fern fronds that have not yet opened up. These curly young fronds are harvested off the forest floor primarily by professional gatherers, and taste like artichokes crossed with asparagus – depending on who you ask.

The practice of eating them is said to have started with the French settlers, who took that cue from the American Indian. The Indian’s have a long history of harvesting and eating Fiddleheads. They consider them to be a medicine, as well as a food, and were known to mark their canoes, wigwams, and clothing with a Fiddlehead motif. We now know that Fiddleheads have antioxidant activity and are a source of Omega 3 and Omega 6, and are high in iron and fiber.

The ostrich fern is the species that produces these edible shoots, which have a unique texture. Fiddleheads can be consumed raw or cooked. A necessary, yet not sufficient, point of identification for ostrich fern Fiddleheads is a groove in the inside of the stem. However, unless you know what you are doing don’t pick your own as some are poisonous.

This April with the warm weather the Fiddlehead crop was early and the Officials with the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Site in Cornish, New Hampshire said rangers were posted to prevent foraging for Fiddlehead ferns at the park. It is, of course, against the rules to pick anything on park property.

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I bought my ferns at the store and brought them home and soaked them to clean them off. I gave them a quick shake in a towel, and then coated them. I like to use a mixture of flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Very simple.

On the hearth was a skillet heating with duck fat. When the fat was hot enough, in went the Fiddleheads to be fried.

When they began to brown, Allan took them off and served them for our dinner.

They were tasty , however, next time I may just fry them in good old spring butter.

I have not found an 18th century receipt for Fiddleheads, however, we do know they ate them and may have cooked them in several ways. I have posted in the receipt files a great ragout with Fiddleheads and morels. It is a modern receipt and I think I may try it next.

So enjoy the bounty of spring and try Fiddleheads at your next meal.


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About Sandie

Since I was a small child I have loved early fireplaces and the smell of smoke in an old house. However it was not until about Fifteen years ago that my journey into hearth cooking began. It all started at the Hurd House Museum in Woodbury Ct. I was the director of the Junior Docent program and among the programs each week we cooked. At about the same time a group of us started the Culinary Historians of Connecticut meeting once a month to discuss equipment used, receipt (18th century term for recipe), and anything between the late 1600 to late 1700 that had to do with hearth cooking. We were fortunate to try our hand at cooking at several Museums throughout Ct and many more private homes. We made cheese; we held a late 1600 dinner and shared our knowledge with others. Our group designrd our own tours such as the Kitchens of Old Wethersfield. In 2000 we were delighted to host the Historic Foodways group of ALFAM at the Hurd House during their conference at Mystic Seaport. We put together a great workshop of Puddings, Sausages, Brown Bread, Beverages you name it we offered it. I am now a member of the ALFAM foodways group. Then it was off to Colonial Williamsburg for the seminar The Art of 18th-Century Cooking: Farm to Hearth to Table. During the years I joined many workshops in Sturbridge Village plus their Dinner in a Country Village and breakfast at the Freeman Farm. So I was pretty much hooked on heart cooking and the 18th century way of life. I joined a wonderful group of ladies and we started the “Hive” a place to improve and grow your 18th century impression and offer research about material culture in 17070’s New England. We also travel with friends and have displays of clothing and teas at Museums in Massachusetts. Many events are held at the Hartwell Tavern at Minute Man National Park. They have been gracious enough to let us play there and entertain and share our knowledge with their visitors. Please visit our “Hive” site if the 1700 interest you. Then the move to New Hampshire and a job at Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth as the co-coordinator of the Junior Role Playing workshop and eventually cooking in front of the hearth at the Wheelwright house. Not only did I enjoy making my evening meals at the hearth to take home but also talking with the visitors. I am an entertainer after all, check out my program page. Most recently I am working at the Museum of Old York in Maine as an educator, hearth cook and organizer of the Junior Docent cooking program in the summer. See some photos in the archive file Because I do make food with the docents and serve food to the public at our Tavern Dinners I took the National Restaurant Association tests called ServSafe and now have my Certification as a Restaurant Manager. I look forward to the Museum of Old York opening again this March 2012 and getting back to the hearth and teaching, however for now I’m cooking at home and enjoying doing so.

4 thoughts on “FIDDLEHEADS

  1. Hi, Sandie:
    Nice posting about fiddleheads. Sadly the season has passed down here in Deerfield. Just a note about the 18th century citations for their use, I remember seeing a reference once to Native peoples gathering “maidenhair” ferns up in New France in early spring and someone told me that they were fiddleheads. Not sure if that is accurate, but it is an interesting tie in to your post!

  2. Claire, I do believe there are a few other ferns that can be picked. However, the ostrich fern is the most common. I just wanted to make sure that, like mushroom, one better know what they are picking before eating.

  3. I have never seen these in our area. It may be much to warm for them.

  4. My husband just loved Fiddleheads and he cooked them to a tee. I will try your recipe next year as I know they are wonderful.Thanks for the wonderful menu to use next year.

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