11 May 2010

Springtime Greens ... Spring Fiddleheads!

Green, green, green! I am always amazed at the number of shades of green that one sees in May. Every tree, plant, and flower has its own unique take on the color. Look at my back yard! It is such a beautiful scene right now. We have been putting in flowers and vegetables, digging up the first dandelions, and pulling the first clover and weeds from the beds. Cooking is fast and simple these days ... I've been looking for greens at the markets. Today, I found a welcome seasonal surprise!

During May, we get fiddleheads in the markets here in New England. I don't know if they come into other folks' markets or whether they are a regional treat. They have a strong green flavor and as Silent Bob says, "A little go a long way, Susan."  He's right.

I suspect fiddleheads have kept their cachet because we all want to remember what our ancestors must have felt like after a long winter of chopping up chunks of squash, turnips, taters, and onions. Those first unfurlings of green must have been too much of a temptation ... and knowing the Yankee penchant for 'making-do', I can just see some housewife whacking those fiddleheads off at ground level and bringing them home to steam with some butter and bacon. That's exactly what I have done. Okay... I used prosciutto. It crisped up faster and with less fat than regular old bacon. I would recommend it to you! Use real butter ... and brown it. Add just a few drops of lemon juice and there you have it !

In doing some more reading on fiddleheads, I learned that they are a specific variety of ostrich fern. Many of the fiddleheads harvested here in New England grow in northern Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Maine, too, apparently has a significant number of 'patches'. Folks who harvest fiddleheads have most often learned how to identify them from their elders ... so it's a 'family thing'. However, the Maine Cooperative Extension website offers a good botanical description of the ostrich fern that an adventurous forager could use when hunting and harvesting the spring treat. I would love to hook up with someone knowledgable and go for a walk in the woods to find some of my own!! The black flies aren't too bad yet and the time is right!

Cooking fiddleheads always involves thorough cleaning and then blanching them first (2-3minutes should do it) to remove alkaloids that give the ferns a bitter tang ... then, the ferns are refreshed in cold water, drained, and dried off.  At that point, they are recipe-ready.  In any recipe, they should be washed well (notice that I state this point twice?), and cooked for a good amount of time, as there has been an incident of food-bourne illness documented in Washington state linked to short cooking time. No surprise  there. Fiddleheads come out of the mud and muck at streams' edges.

I've found recipes for fiddlehead soup, fiddleheads with pasta and duck confit, and even a shrimp and fiddlehead  pasta primavera recipe. Who knew !?!  Perhaps you'll find some fiddleheads of your own and try this seasonal delicacy... enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. I think the other type of fiddlehead that is common eaten - perhaps more so here in the south - is Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamonea). There are some others that are said to be carcinogenic though, so it does pay to hunt with someone knowledgeable.


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