Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fiddleheads - A Spring Delicacy

Fiddleheads are a springtime delicacy in Maine

Fiddleheads are one of the best things about Spring in Maine! These awesome greens begin growing early in Spring and must be harvested before the "fiddlehead" unrolls. Fiddleheads are also a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are also very high in iron, fiber, and potassium. Since they are also low in sodium fiddleheads are a great choice for anyone that is on a low sodium diet. 

Fiddleheads are found throughout the world, but are very popular in Northeastern America. Many people spend long hours picking fiddleheads each Spring. For people like me, I harvest them for my own personal use. Other's sell them to grocery stores, in parking lots, and even ship them for sale around the world. This can be a great little extra boost to your income. 

Once cooked they can be served with salt, pepper and butter. You can also use vinegar. Another great option is smothering them in a rich cheese or hollandaise sauce. Fiddleheads are also great in a salad.  

There are some important things to remember when eating Fiddleheads, especially if you are picking your own. 

  • Fiddleheads aren't like other raw vegetables. You have to cook them before you can eat them. It is possible to become sick from eating raw Fiddleheads. 
  • Make sure that you're picking the right type of Fiddleheads if you are picking your own. The one you want  is the ostrich fern. This is the only type of Fiddleheads that can be eaten. The ostrich fern is about 1-ince in diameter. They can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering the uncoiled fern. It also have a smooth fern stem, and a "U" shaped on the inside of it's stem. 
  • The fronds (heads) needs to be tightly curled. If they are older and more unfurled don't eat them. 

Preparing your fiddleheads to eat

After you've harvested your Fiddleheads it's time to cook them. The first thing that you'll need to do is remove all the yellow/brown skin from the ferns. This discoloration is caused by natural oxidation and is nothing to worry about. It's the same as an apple turning brown after cut open. Next you have to rinse them in cold water. Do this a few times, while shaking them briskly, making sure they are nice and clean before cooking them in boiling water. While not necessary, you can change the water once while boiling them. This will help to take some of the bitterness out of the Fiddleheads. The water used to boil them can also be saved and added to soup bases for extra flavor. You can also steam them by spreading a thin layer of Fiddleheads in a steam basket, steaming them lightly until they are tender crisp.  It's about 15 mins to boil them and 10-12 to steam. 

Fiddleheads can also be sauteed. Heat some vegetable or other natural oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. If you use butter lower the heat to medium. Add the boiled or steamed Fiddleheads to the skillet. Only sauteing them isn't enough to fully cook them and prevent illness. Salt the Fiddleheads until they are starting to brown. During cooking you can add salt and pepper to taste, some thinly sliced garlic, chopped shallots, or bacon for added flavor. Continue cooking another minute or so until done.

A popular option for storing Fiddleheads is freezing. This is very easy and will guarantee that you can have Fiddleheads whenever you want. Trim and wash the ferns, while bringing a pot of water to a hard boil. You want to make sure you have enough water to cover the Fiddleheads completely. Add the fiddleheads to the pot. Using a wire basket makes this much easier. Once the water begins to boil again time it for 1 minute. Drain the fiddleheads and immediately place them into very cold, or ice water. Allow them to cool completely. Put the Fiddleheds in freezer bags and ice cold water to cover. Squeeze any excess air from the bags to help prevent freezer burn. Seal the bags and put them in the freezer. Try to keep at least 1-inch of space between the bags to help them freeze quicker. 

Fiddlehead Recipes:


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