Fiddlehead Ferns: Edible Coils of Green
Resembling the scroll end of certain stringed musical instruments such as the violin, every spring the ostrich ferns rise up from the ground and unfurl their growing green fronds. For a very short time each May, these new fern growths can be harvested and eaten. The season for fiddlehead ferns is short, for when they are unfurled fully they are no longer good to eat. These are some of the earliest and easiest to procure 'natural foods' that can be either wild-gathered or if you are lucky, available commercially in the supermarket.
Fiddlehead Fern, the Ostrich Fern
Fiddleheads when they are offered in market, often have a brownish paper-like chaff that covers them. This is mostly removed prior to being offered but you will see this. Pick this papery chaff away, you don't want to eat that part. Fiddlehead ferns are the immature leaves of the ostrich fern, so named because their opened leaves resemble large ostrich feathers. Fiddlehead ferns grow throughout Canada and the United States as well as China, Siberia, France, Belgium and throughout parts of the Alps.
The coiled heads are best harvested when about one or just under two inches in diameter and still tightly coiled. You will see little leaflets and branches still bunched up in the coil. If the coil has unrolled and has a straight 'tail,' just cut or snap that stalk part off. It's the round curl that is best to eat. Fiddlehead ferns are harvested wild directly from the forest so they may still contain some soil, leaf-litter and other forest debris. Several rinses with cold running water in a colander would be in order, tossing and gently rolling them around to liberate any dirt or twigs.
Fiddlehead Ferns can be stored for about a week to ten days in a cold refrigerator although these are best if used right away. Both raw and cooked, they will be crisp. They should not be overcooked as this will render them soft and limp. These should not be eaten raw however as they would be a little bitter. Some people have been known to get an upset stomach from eating a raw fiddlehead fern. Once the scroll has opened up completely, they are considered to be inedible as they become quite bitter and even cooking will not remove the bad flavor.
Raw Fiddlehead Ferns
Fiddleheads can be boiled, steamed, or sauteed in butter and seasoned with vinegar. They have an excellent visual appeal and look and taste great with pasta and tomato dishes as a side or as an added garnish. A good source of Vitamin-A and Vitamin-C, the fiddlehead fern can make an interesting addition to a salad as well. They have an interesting flavor that some compare to asparagus. These are great in oriental stir-fry dishes, fried with olive oil and co-mingled with other small diced and chopped vegetables and meat and go well with a contrasting 'sweet' ingredient, such as boiled rhubarb. These stir-fried Fiddlehead ferns are also excellent when served with broiled salmon and thickened boiled pink grapefruit sauce.