Fiddleheads are my favourite spring vegetable.
Growing up in Nova Scotia meant we got a chance to enjoy these tender, wild, spring treats each year.
I’ve always loved vegetables. And strangely enough, my preferences were always toward the bitter, salty and sour flavours that not many children gravitate toward. My mom will say I liked my main meal or savoury foods better than candy, sweets and dessert. (Unfortunately, I did also develop a bit of a sweet tooth over the years.)
In fact, before I could even speak, I’d spot the olives while riding through the grocery store in the cart, point out to them, and make a slight grunting sound. My mom would pick up the jar and I’d nod and smile with delight. Every so often, she’d put me to bed with a mini jar of green olives with pimento on my night table. Not your typical bedtime children’s snack!
So it was not unusual that I enjoyed fiddleheads, cooked spinach, asparagus, various pickles, sauerkraut and smoked haddock fillets for breakfast.
To this day, that same smile and delight comes over me when I see the fiddleheads showing up in big tubs or buckets at the farmer’s market.
Well it’s fiddlehead season and I’ve been indulging.
What are fiddleheads?
Fiddleheads are the edible tops of baby ostrich ferns that have not completely opened up yet. They grow wild and are popular in New England and up into the eastern provinces of Canada. They grow in wet areas like along rivers and streams and in swampy, marshy areas.
The season for them is short because once they start to unfurl, the process happens pretty quickly. The unfurling can take a few days up to a couple of weeks. Once they have unfurled, we’ve lost the opportunity to nosh on those delectable, tightly-coiled nuggets of goodness.
Where did they get their name?
They are called fiddleheads because of their resemblance to the ornamental coiled head of a fiddle or other stringed instrument.
What do they taste like?
For me fiddleheads are the epitome of spring. They capture freshness, new growth, blossoming and awakening. They are earthy and woodsy, with a taste similar to asparagus, broccoli or cooked spinach. The texture is also similar to cooked asparagus.
Are they nutritious?
You betcha. Fiddleheads are rich in vitamins A and C, a great source of potassium and low in calories.
Can you pick them yourself?
You can forage for fiddleheads, but since there are many varieties of toxic ferns, I’d make sure to go with someone who knew what they were looking for. Otherwise, I’d recommend popping by your local farmer’s market. Locally, fiddleheads range from somewhere between $5 to $7 per pound.
How to prepare them?
I’ve heard by a chef friend that you should boil fiddleheads for at least 15 minutes to eliminate any toxins. I’m not sure if this is myth or truth. I’ve heard of people getting sick from undercooked fiddleheads so I prefer to boil them to be safe. But don’t overcook as they’ll become mushy.
Personally I like them with some butter, salt, pepper and a little vinegar. But once they are boiled you can do a number of things with them. Add them to salads and stir fries, sauté them with garlic and butter, or make a soup.
So head on out to your local farmer’s market today, pick up some fiddleheads and enjoy this spring delicacy.
Over to you. Do you enjoy fiddleheads? What’s your favourite way to prepare them? Share your comments with us!
This post first appeared here in the Halifax Citizen on June 6th, 2016.