Sunday, May 17, 2009

Foraging for Fiddleheads

It's spring on Nicollet Island. The trees are budding, and little green tips are poking up through the earth. On our walks, we remark: how high the Mississippi River is this year! Among the first green things that appear in our yards, the woods, and on the riverbanks are fiddleheads: the curled, edible shoots of ferns. I don't have to go far to gather fiddleheads-- with just a pair of scissors, I can forage these springtime delicacies right in my yard! Within ten minutes, I've filled a bowl with the curled tendrils, given them a quick rinse, and have them soaking in iced water upstairs in my kitchen. From time to time, I swirl them around in the icy water to remove any trace of grit from them.

Fiddleheads should be foraged when they are small and tightly coiled. If the fern leaf tip has unfurled and is visible, the shoot is too old to be gathered-- should have harvested it yesterday! Fiddleheads have a distinctive mild flavor, a little like asparagus, and they can be used successfully in any recipe that calls for asparagus. They are delightful when lightly steamed, stir-fried, pickled in salads, or served over pasta. As a vegetable, fiddleheads can be enjoyed with a cream or hollandaise sauce or lightly sauteed with sesame or olive oil, or a soy-based sauce. They are fantastic additions to omelets and frittatas, or when fried with bacon or pancetta. If you have only a few fiddleheads, lightly pan-fry them and use to garnish cream soups or dress a springtime plate.

In this picture, the young fern
on the left is out of fiddlehead stage, while the one on the right displays perfect coiled fiddleheads, ready for harvesting.

Since I'd gathered lots of fiddleheads, I decided to simply pan-fry them and enjoy them as a delicious springtime wild vegetable. I heated a saute pan with a little ramp butter, tossed in the fiddleheads, and added a few young dandelion leaves and wild garlic chives. These spring greens also grow wild on Nicollet Island, and it was easy to gather them at the same time as the fiddleheads.

The resulting dish was a rustic, but delicious celebration of spring. The tender greens tasted so fresh after the months of eating mostly local keeper vegetables and shipped in, non-seasonal salad greens! Springtime wild foods are among the great joys of eating locally.

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