Fiddleheads

Regarding Fiddleheads

It was a rainy May Saturday morning at the indoor farmer’s market within the State of Maine Cheese shop. After considering little jugs of honey, and sampling an especially terrific batch of Prix de Diane from Lakin’s Gorges Cheese, I bought a dozen brown eggs, a marigold plant, and a $2 bag of fiddlehead ferns. In spring in Maine, we have mud, and we have fiddleheads. Cold nights and windy days. Dandelions and rain. Contrasts and warming beauty. Fiddleheads are foraged food, forest food, spring food. You love them or hate them. Anticipate the sweet fleeting weeks of their availability, or cringe at the childhood memory of being force fed ferns by an overzealous grandma.

Fiddleheads look like snails, dark green fibonacci fronds. When I unfurl one it looks like a primal rainforest plant. As I polled the food cognescenti hanging around I got recipe advice (“bake them with ricotta!”) and mixed feelings. “I go back and forth on them” was one man’s ambivalent reply. Influenced mostly by his dad’s general hysteria regarding anything he thought of as “hippie food,” Malcolm’s lingering impression was that they were gross, but upon tasting conceded that they were fine. Many go so far as to sing their praises. Is there any real reason to eat them, or are they just another faddish food fetish object found at the farmer’s market?

It’s one of those rare instances when everyone is right. They are astringent, bitter, strange. They taste like spring and earth. Old timers simply boil them and boil them and boil them again, in a typically Protestant fashion, washing away the sins of the earth. A new generation of chefs and cooks add bacon and Parmesan for an umami taste component, to balance their natural grassiness. I thought it best, as usual, to come to rest somewhere in the middle. Eating fiddleheads is a rite of spring, a ritual in which we make meaning through our deliberate, annual actions. They were pleasant in this easy preparation; like asparagus, but woodsier. Oh, and dirty, so definitely wash them.

How to Cook and Eat Fiddlehead Ferns
Makes about two cups [sc:ziplist]

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh fiddleheads
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Squeeze of lemon

In a saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil. Add fiddleheads, and cook until water comes back up to a boil. Drain and rinse.

In a saute pan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add garlic, par boiled fiddleheads, salt, and pepper. Saute 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and finish with a squirt of lemon.

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Comments

  1. says

    I prepared mine in a similar way this week! However, I cooked them with some chopped asparagus and garlic in butter, then served them alongside fish.
    Leftovers topped barley bowls with white beans, lemon juice, and parmesan.

  2. Anne says

    I, too, am from away. My first spring here in Maine, some twenty years ago, I was delighted to buy some fiddleheads and prepare them for the friends who were putting us up and for their parents who were visiting. It just seemed the Maine thing to do.

    All I will say about that episode is that I have never since even considered putting a fiddlehead anywhere near my plate, let alone my mouth. LOL!

  3. says

    I think fiddleheads are great! I bought a GIANT bag for my husband and I and was planning on offering some to my brother but I ended up eating them all in 2-3 sittings!
    It makes me wonder how much more people would appreciate most vegetables if they had a short season like fiddleheads and weren’t able to find them all year long ..

  4. Maria says

    You inspired me. I saw them at the store today and got them. This is what I did. I got a box of shiitake mushrooms, sliced them and cooked them in Leroux’s lemon olive oil. Added the garlic (3 cloves) and the fiddle heads (after boiling them as you instructed). I then cooked some thick noodles, dumped them in with the mushroom fiddlehead mixture, added some heavy cream and a pile of grated asiago cheese. It came out really good! Must try it. I think the lemon olive oil gives it a nice touch.

  5. says

    I saw your photo on Fridgg this morning and knew you had to be living in Maine if you were discussing fiddleheads. It made me smile, as I was born and raised there, but had to leave a few years ago for work. My family still lives there.

    I remember a lot of fiddleheads being eaten when I grew up. I never was brave enough to try, but my uncle always requested them as one of our Easter side dishes, and my grandmother always indulged him if they were available. Up in the County there weren’t a ton of farmer’s markets – you simply went and picked them yourself. I don’t recall them ever being served any way other than boiled or steamed, then drenched in vinegar and black pepper.

    Thank you for the memory this morning!

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