My Mother (aka Me Mum) is from Nova Scotia. Long cold winters gave way to wet cold springs. Wet cold springs gave themselves to the spring bounty and wild Fiddleheads are a spring tradition of the east coast (and increasingly around the world).
These lovely creatures (who got their name after the scroll of a violin) have received bad press overseas, particularly in Asia as of late. A fiddlehead is a generic term for a young fern and in this particular shape and many varieties are eaten around the world. Varieties in Japan have been found to be DNA-damaging while many of our local varieties (including the Ostrich Fern found in Ontario and New Brunswick) are reported as safe to eat. These lovely friends only visit a few weeks a year and a visit to the local Farmers Market or St Lawrence Market may find you in luck. Try to but the Ontario if you can as it is a far more energy efficient and, typically, fresher harvest.
How does one cook these lovelies? Easy peasy (think Asparagus, it’s closest relative and spring time ally):
1) Cut part of the original stem off (not a lot – you want a fresh cut, similar to fresh flowers – the image above is after the cut, the ones below are before).
2) Boil some salted water. Not as salted as pasta but it can’t hurt. You’re not going to boil these – just enough to cover most of them and partially steam the rest. Do this with a cover for speed. Wait for a rolling boil.
3) Throw the fiddleheads in – turn the burner off immediately (or within 30 seconds if using gas). Let them sit in the hot water/ steam for a few minutes. You want these crisp.
4) Drain water. Drop in a pat of butter, squeeze a lemon half if you want to be cheeky.
Do not, do not, overcook. For extra bonus points, unwrap one and you’ll see how this will become a fern if it had been left in the wild.
The pleasure in eating this WONDERFUL veg is the crisp outside that gives way to the soft, yet textured, leafy middle. They are delightful and best enjoyed one at a time (like French Fries!). I beleive they are too delecate to pickle and have never seen them done that way so enjoy them while you can – they are the bomb!!!