Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fiddleheads!



Ah, fiddleheads. Boy, do they bring me back to my childhood! Growing up in Northern Maine gave me major moose and potato overexposure, but it also opened my eyes to this once a year yumminess. My mother, aunt and I used to comb the steep banks of a little shaded brook each spring to fill a shopping bag for our own use. We were not fiddlehead foragers for money, as are many people. Cultivating fiddleheads is problematic so most often (maybe always), the fids you find in the store or in a jar were picked by foragers. I believe there is only one company in the U.S. (WS Wells & Sons cannery in Wilton, ME) that cans these delicious ferns.

Fiddleheads are baby Ostrich ferns that are still coiled. In my opinion, their flavor is reminiscent of asparagus with a hint of earthy mushrooms. They may appear in your local supermarket in late April and May, and run between $3.99 to $8.99/lb b/c they are so hard to find. You’ll notice that they have brown scales (paper-like covering) throughout the coil…no worries, follow the recipe below and you’ll be all set!
(Note: the picture above is of still-raw fiddleheads.)

Trim the stalk side of the fiddlehead to remove any hardened, browned edge. Soak them in water for a few minutes and rinse to remove some scales. Blanch the fids for a minute or 2 and drain. You’ll notice more scales coming off. Boil them again for another 10-15 minutes, drain and serve warm with butter, salt and pepper, yum!!! You can always sautee them up with pasta or whatever, just make sure they are cooked through by boiling first as there may be unknown toxins the are active when raw.

From TheHeartofNewEngland.com (see link below):

...the Center for Disease Control has found a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness associated with fiddleheads (nothing is simple, right?) But the outbreaks occurred when the ferns were eaten raw or lightly cooked (as in sautéed, parboiled or micro-waved). So…cook your fiddlehead thoroughly before eating them…boil them for at least 10 minutes. After than, you can eat them right away, or freeze or pickle them.

Delicious AND dangerous! We had our fiddleheads, prepared as described above, with our Shepherd's pie. They are so wonderfully tender and flavorful and a real rite of spring in New England - take advantage while they are available during these first months of spring and summer!

More Fiddlehead Information
Heart of New England Fiddlehead Info and Two Recipes
Maine Fiddlehead Recipes

9 comments:

Jaye said...

What do they taste like?

Boston Chef said...

Hey, Jaye... fiddleheads are really unique, but they can be loosely described as the cross between asparagus and mushrooms - both in flavor and texture.

$3.99/lb. right now is a good price, too. Last year they were up to $7.99/lb!

Helen said...

Great post! I am new to fiddleheads. In fact, I've never seen them until I moved to New England, but now I look forward to them every spring.

I am not so sure about them being toxic. I believe that some ferns are toxic and if you pick them yourself and are not sure about variety, it's important to cook them through, but the stuff you buy at whole foods is fine. They'd never take a chance and sell something that might make people sick if improperly handled without 20 million warnings.

Cheers,
-Helen

sher said...

I've never tasted them. They're on my list of Foods I Have To Try before I die. I could order them from a place like Earthy Delights. They are so interesting looking too.

Boston Chef said...

Helen - you are probably right... you'd think there would be a WARNING! DO NOT EAT RAW! on them if they were that toxic. They LOOK like they should be eaten raw, which doesn't help.

They taste best RIGHT after being cooked with some butter and salt and pepper. Looking at your sauteed fiddleheads, I wonder about throwing them on the grill after par-boiling - could be good!

Sher - definitely give them a shot, they are fun to eat. Check out Helen's great recipe for Parsnip soup with fiddleheads

MM said...

I love fiddleheads but we can't get them here. I htink I first had them in UK at some gourmet vegetarian sammich place. I liked it so much I used to walk all the day down to the shop for lunch just for it. Fabulous! By the way, envying the grill! And the lil nephew is a cutie.

Anonymous said...

I just got dandelion greens in the can from WS Wells and Son it says you can write them for recipes. My grandmother used to pick dandelions in the yard for our dinner salad, I loved it!

Anonymous said...

I know you are not supposed to eat fiddleheads when they are in full fern. They are toxic then, but I didn't know about the cooking for a long time. I know my mother in law (nothern Maine-Van Buren) boiled them three times with salt pork, and I do the same. A great woodsy taste, $3.99 this year, last year $5.99.

Anonymous said...

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