This is for Glen, a young Australian who ditched his high-tech job to travel the world, writing about his adventures at Backpack Planet as he tastes “something of what the planet has to offer.”
When Glen eventually makes his way around to northeastern North America, I hope he passes through in the springtime, so he’d get a chance to sample a local delicacy —
And what the heck are fiddleheads? you may ask…
Fiddleheads (sometimes called “fiddlehead greens,” but not by anyone on the east coast!) are the tightly curled edible heads of the ostrich fern. These grow along the banks of many streams and rivers in our part of the world, where the harvest of fiddleheads is a traditional practice of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq First Nations peoples.
Never mind your fancy asparagus dishes (though I wouldn’t mind some, if there’s extra going around!) — fiddleheads are the taste of spring in the Maritimes. Boiled up or steamed well, and anointed with butter and just a splash of vinegar… ah, there’s a little bit of wild green heaven!
It’s fiddlehead-picking season here now, a brief few magical weeks just after the river levels drop and before the warm weather gets settled in, while the wild cherries are in bloom and the apple blossoms are just beginning to show colour…
A sharp knife, good waterproof boots, and a strong back are required. That, and a knowledge of where the ostrich fern grows, and what it looks like!
You cut the curled fern heads with no more than three or four inches of stem, and swish them about in the river, then toss them in a basket. They must be washed several times, to get off all the little brown bits of fern sheathing (“and fish poop,” says my friend Justin, who is eight years old and much concerned about such things).
Yes, it’s hard work!
Or, you can just drive slowly along almost any road in any river valley, and pull over at one of the many hand-lettered signs saying “Fiddleheads for Sale” — there’s quite a seasonal ‘cottage industry’ in the fiddlehead harvest. You can find them in some of the large grocery stores, too, but like all vegetables it’s better eating when fresh from the roadside stand.
Either way, get lots. Fiddleheads do freeze well, as the McCain’s frozen food company has discovered to their economic benefit. And there’s no end of the dandy fiddlehead recipes to try, when you’ve had the fill of boiled veg… I’m a big fan of a nice fiddlehead quiche, myself, but almost any recipe that calls for asparagus would adapt quite well to fiddleheads instead.