Saturday, 17 May 2014


The triumvirate of spring foraging are ramps, fiddleheads and morels. One year we were blessed with morels simply popping up in the lawn at the foot of a dead elm. In fact, not expecting them, at first glance they looked like pine cones. But they never made a return appearance and I have never found them in the woods.

Fiddleheads appear at the tail end of ramp season. Fiddleheads are the curled frond, croziers, of ostrich ferns. They enjoy very damp ground. Ours are in the "flood plain" of the creek at the outer edge of aspens where they get sun but still a dappled light.
Ostrich ferns just recently unfurled
Another location where the ferns are slightly behind and there are more fiddleheads

Like any foraged treat, timing is of the essence. The fronds for eating need to be tightly curled. Once they appear just a day or two of sun will coax them into opening up into graceful fronds. Fiddleheads come from the ostrich fern, matteuccia struthiopteris. They are characterized by an indented stem.
The clearly indented stem of the ostrich fern fiddlehead

All ferns reproduce by spores, having neither flowers nor seeds. Along the outer edge of the stand of ostrich ferns are the smaller sensitive ferns, onoclea sensibilis.
A stand of sensitive ferns
Sensitive ferns bordering an ostrich fern in the centre

Like other wild greens, fiddleheads are a nutritional powerhouse. Rare in vegetables, they contain Omega 3 fatty acids. They have twice the antioxidants of blueberries and are high in fibre, Vitamin A and C and contain iron and potassium.
Fiddleheads ripe for the picking
Fiddleheads just starting to unfurl
When foraging for anything it is always important to pick sustainably. For fiddleheads it is essential to leave at least one crozier on each plant. That is relatively easy because the fiddleheads emerge from different depths over time. The topmost accessible fiddleheads are removed while the lower buried ones can be left to maintain the health of the fern.
One fiddlehead clearly above the others. It can be picked and the others left  

There has been some controversy about the safety of eating fiddleheads. Although it wasn't proven conclusively, fiddleheads were thought possibly to contain a toxin. But they have been a staple of native and country diets for years. The safe approach is not to eat them raw or undercooked. To prepare for eating the brown chaff needs to be rubbed off. Then the fiddleheads are rinsed multiple times in cold water until the water is clear. The ends can be trimmed. Health Canada recommends boiling for 15 minutes or steaming for 12. At this point they can be served simply with a drizzling of olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Or used in endless other ways, sautéed, highlighted in a risotto, pizza, quiche… Your imagination is the limit.
Fiddleheads ready to be cooked

No comments:

Post a Comment