It’s spring in Maine and it is the time of year when folks thoughts turn to—fiddleheads!! What is a fiddlehead, you ask. As a native Pennsylvanian, it was a question that I asked when I first moved here. It’s hard to believe but that was over thirty years ago.
A fiddlehead, I was told, is a fern before it unfurls. EWWWWWWW! I thought. Why would folks eat those? Well, I have been here all these years and I still ponder that same question. I have tried them but I just can’t get over the fact that this is a fern and to me, it just doesn’t seem like something you should eat!! You grow ferns in your flower garden or as a house plant but eat them??!!
I will try to explain a bit about this Maine delicacy even though I am not a fan. The fiddlehead is nothing more than the young coiled leaves of the ostrich fern. Most ferns have fiddleheads but I am told that the ostrich fern is the most delectable. They can be found emerging in clusters of about three to twelve fiddleheads each on the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks. They can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the fern stem. I got this info from the University of Maine, Bulletin 4198. Since I am not a fan of fiddleheads, I never have picked any. The hubby loves them so I buy them from the locals who know what they are doing (we hope).
Preparing them is pretty simple. Brush off that brown papery stuff (best to do this outside so you don’t have it all over the kitchen) and then thoroughly wash them with cold water, changing the water until it appears clean. Then all you have to do is add them to a small amount of boiling water and cook them for about ten minutes. If you prefer them steamed, they should be steamed for about twenty minutes. Serve them immediately with some butter and/or vinegar. The flavor is supposed to be more delicate if they are eaten soon after they are picked. The flavor resembles asparagus, another vegetable that I am not terribly fond of.
The season is short for these so they can be frozen for later consumption. Clean them and then blanch a small amount at a time in four to six cups of boiling water. Cool them in cold water or an ice water bath, then pack them into moisture and vapor-proof containers and freeze. Thaw and boil for 10 minutes before serving.
Well, there you have it folks. My almost unbiased review of the fiddlehead. 😉 If you love these or have a different way to cook them, be sure to let me know. Who knows—maybe I will even end up liking them some day.