Up in the sometimes frigid north we’ve been getting antsy for spring for a while now. A few teasers here and again with a couple of days in the 70’s, then we cruelly drop back to 30 degrees.
Hiking with friends recently at a national park we noticed the fiddleheads. Being in a national park there are rules to collecting anything and in general, it’s just not allowed. We took note and discussed everything we were hoping to or knew how to collect. Most of us are new to the region and have only foraged in somewhat different climates. I myself have collected most of my goodies while working as an archaeologist for the past few years. Some things like wild garlic, field onions, sunchokes, and ground nuts, ended up in my screen at work and were no effort at all to find as long as I was in the right part of the woods. I might choose to dig my test pit on a patch of onions just because it would yield twice the results for half the work. Things I brought home had to be pretty sturdy to survive a day in my field pack or pocket. Although, There was once I did stumble across apple snails in a canal in Louisiana and just happened to have a cooler with me. Yes!
Erica and I set out on a Fiddlehead mission first thing the next morning. We wandered up the trails behind her house and it didn’t take us long to find a patch of fern in the woods. Look for dappled sun on a south facing slope or a spot where a fallen tree lets a little extra light in. These areas can be treasure troves! The best patch we found was on the edge of a small swampy low area. The ferns here were fat and juicy looking and ready to reach tall. They almost look like little cabbages on stems. We quickly collected our fill, leaving the tallest & smallest behind. Collect no more than half of what you see. Unlike flowers and fruit, pruning ferns does not produce more. As we headed home our conversation quickly turned to how we were going to prepare them and what to serve with them.
After lunch, Erica introduced me to a lovely farmers market where I picked two local chicken legs to go with my fiddleheads. I also scored some pork and goose pate with port wine and sampling of smoked prosciutto.
I returned home, started my chicken legs roasting and began to clean my fiddleheads. Fiddleheads should be rinsed very well to remove any decaying vegetable matter (as in the forest floor that has stuck to the fern as it pushes up and unravels). I like to rinse, soak, rinse.
When cooking fiddleheads think of them like green beans. They even taste somewhat like them. For the fresh crop that I was cooking today, I went simple with butter and garlic.
Melt as much butter (or oil) as you are comfortable consuming (4T?) and add to it 2 large cloves of chopped garlic. Add 2 handfuls of fiddleheads and toss to coat. Sauté on medium heat, the color will change from darker green to light, the ‘cabbage’ in the middle will begin to wilt and the stems will be tender crisp. You can up the ante by adding white wine or lemon juice. Sooo yummy!
*There is no fiddlehead that is poisionous. Bracken fiddleheads (not pictured) can cause irritation to sensitive tummies so start with just a few if you fall into this category. Do not eat after the fern starts to unfurl. This is no longer a fiddlehead, just a prehistoric plant, and becomes toxic. Eat raw fiddleheads sparingly, vitamin B will begin to breakdown on excessive consumption.
*Try to keep a foraging log. Document everything and take pictures! Remember to check twice, be absolutely positive of what you are consuming!