Fiddleheads: Springtime Goods from the Woods

In New England, West Virginia, and as it turns out, many temperate woodsy places around the world, people have long welcomed spring with a short season specialty: fiddleheads. Named for their physical resemblance to the top of a violin, these emerging fern leaves are fun and easy to harvest and offer a very welcome bright green burst of freshness after a long winter. Highly nutritious, they are an outstanding source of vitamin A and fiber, and a good one of vitamin C, potassium, niacin and iron.

They were eaten by Native Americans and native people in modern day Japan, Nepal, Australia and New Zealand all recognized fiddleheads for their early season fresh taste and nutrition.  This time of year, I look forward to a walk in the woods, with a bag tucked into my pocket, in search of new ferns not yet fully extended. I pick just two or three furled fronds from each fern plant and dream up what I will cook with them.

Despite differing opinions about what to do next, my experience has taught me to clean them well, and cook them quickly (as opposed to eating them raw).  Not too long or you will lose the bright color, crisp crunch and many valuable nutrients.  If you are buying them at the market, you’ll see they are not the cheapest thing to eat in April, but for a food which is only available for a few weeks, has been eaten this time of year for ages and puts gorgeous spirals of natural art on your plate, isn’t it worth it?

Last night I made a simple fiddlehead fried rice.  I washed the fiddleheads while I was heating up a pot of salted water.  Once it was boiling I cooked the fiddleheads for several minutes, then rinsed them under cool water. I sautéed scallions and minced garlic in butter for a few minutes. I added the fiddleheads, cooked them for another minute and then stirred in cooked rice I had left over from the night before. I seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and allowed all to cook together for another minute or two. I served it on small plates with a good dusting of grated parmesan cheese. Delicious. The leftovers were enjoyed for breakfast, refried, with an egg (which turned out to be a double-yoker) on top.

As soon as I gather some more, I look forward to trying these great looking recipes:

From my friend, Cheryl Willoughby, previously the Classical Music Director of Vermont Public Radio and now in Boston at WGBH, this recipe for Cream of Fiddlehead Soup.  And, this Vermont family recipe for Fiddlehead Cheddar Cheese Pie.

If you don’t mark it with a fiddlehead dish, is there another food with which you welcome spring each year?

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5 thoughts on “Fiddleheads: Springtime Goods from the Woods

  1. This came at a great time. I went out on a fiddlehead hunt yesterday and now have a good amount to work with sitting in the fridge. Thanks for all the recipes–I’m sure I’ll be able to try ’em all… can’t wait for that Fiddlehead Cheddar Cheese Pie!

    If you’re harvesting, remember to take no more than one third of the fiddleheads from each plant 🙂

  2. Do you have any idea which species of fern fiddleheads are good (or better) to eat? I used to eat them out west and they were delicious, and recently moved to the midwestern “north woods” and there are ferns everywhere but the fiddleheads don’t seem to taste as good… though I haven’t died from my experimentation yet, so they must be edible on some level!

    • Most sites I have checked refer to the variety of fern which offers fiddleheads as the ostrich fern; others don’t specify which suggests that all ferns have a fiddlehead stage. However, I have noticed certain varieties (such as the ones I have in my yard) don’t have a furled stage resembling fiddleheads, so I leave those alone.

      Can you still find them now, or has the season passed? I’m thinking about heading up into the hills in search of more. They’ve unfurled here in the valley.

  3. Pingback: Fiddleheads…end of the season! « Gluten-free Medley

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