In Maine, I have learned about the cool veggie that grows on the side of the road…Fiddleheads. They are the young, curled, edible frond of Ostrich ferns. I was eager to try some! Thankfully, our trusty buddy and local game warden cooked some up for us and gave us a huge bag to take home. So, how do you find them? What do they taste like? Whats the nutritional info on these babies? Well let me tell you what I discovered.
Fiddleheads are found in the spring for a short window of time. They are the heads of a fern before they grow to become full ferns. (Does that make sense?) But, not all fern “heads” are edible. The fiddleheads spoken about in Maine come exclusively from Ostrich ferns. Thankfully, there are a couple easy ways to identify them. They often grow in wet areas, near streams and rivers and I have been told to look for three identifying characteristics. Fiddleheads have a deep, u-shaped groove on the inside of the stem, a bright green stem and they have a feathery brown and papery covering (pictured above).
Now, how do you pick them? I didn’t find any in the wild myself this season, so I am going off what I have read or been told. You pick them before they unfurl, when they’re about one to four inches tall. Snap the stem about an inch from the coiled head. Try to get the more tightly wound fiddleheads. It is very important not to pick more than half the heads on one plant. Also, if a plant has less than four, leave it alone. Over-harvesting will kill the fern.
Once you have your freshly harvested fiddleheads, it is very important to cook them properly. It is suggested to boil them for 5-10 minutes and then prepare them however you would like. I was served them first with butter, salt and pepper. I have since made them with coconut oil and garlic and enjoyed them sautéed AFTER having been boiled. If you plan to store them in the freezer, blanch them first, to retain their beautiful green color.
Fiddleheads are classified as a veggie and are a good source of Protein and Zinc, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Niacin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. They are about 10 calories per ounce. I think they taste somewhere between broccoli and spinach. They are tender and soft like spinach but have a slightly bolder taste.
Apparently they have been part of diets in Northern France, Asia, and Native Americans for centuries. How have a never heard of these before now? All over Maine there were signs on the side of the road, “Fiddleheads $3.00 a lb”. Wow!! Well I can promise you now, no spring will ever go by in Maine without some on my plate!