A late afternoon hike at Mt. Toby this weekend was a beautiful thing. The streams and waterfalls were full from the recent rains, singing to us as we made our way on the moist earth towards the slowly unfurling fiddleheads. Careful to take just a few from each plant, we crouched delicately by the side of the stream, enjoying the snap as the bright green tendrils came off in our hands.
After collecting a few bags full, we headed to the river to wash and prepare the fiddleheads for cooking. The brown husks floated down the current, revealing an even brighter and more vibrant green. These delicate plants were bursting with the song of springtime. “Poke your head out of the ground and reach towards the sunlight!” they called to me.
Eating local foods is always satisfying, and eating those foods that can only be harvested at a particular time of year even more so. Eating these types of foods, we take on the energy and the teachings of the season we are in. Can we be like the fiddleheads? Bravely moving forward into the unknown, while staying firmly rooted in the earth? Reaching towards the light from a deep sense that it is our innate right to do so? It’s not a blind movement. It is purposeful. Its new and tender, but it is powerful. There is a drive of the springtime movement that cannot be ignored.
How to Harvest and Cook Fiddleheads
Not all fiddleheads are edible. It is specifically the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern that are primarily harvested in Northern New England. If you are interested in harvesting fiddleheads, make sure you go with someone knowledgable. Be sure to find a stand that is thick with fiddleheads, so that you are not significantly depleting the local population. A plant every few inches is a good start. Each plant will have a few heads on it. Be sure and take only 3-4 heads from each plant. The fiddleheads should be curled up (if they are unfurled it is too late to harvest) and about an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. The heads that are lowest to the ground are the tastiest. Simply snap the heads backwards to harvest.
Next you want to remove the pieces of brown husk from the fiddleheads. Soak the heads in water for a few minutes, and then remove them by hand, picking off any remaining husk.
Fiddleheads need to be cooked before they are eaten, otherwise they will be bitter and may cause gastrointestinal upset. I like to blanch the fiddleheads in boiling water for a few minutes and then saute them with butter or olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Happy Spring Everyone!