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.
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.