Fiddleheads are the most ephemeral of vegetables. After lying dormant for the winter, coiled beneath the damp earth of forest floors and stream banks, they began unfurling about this time of year.

Those with a hunting spot head out to duck under drooping hemlocks with their noses to the ground, on the prowl for New England's most unique vegetable. Its followers tend to be fanatics; gathering enough of the ferns so that they can sell and eat 'em now, while saving plenty to pickle for later.

If you've ever eaten a fiddlehead sautéed in bacon grease and doused with a dash of salt, it's an obsession plain enough to understand. The coiled ostrich ferns' crisp texture and taste reminiscent of a cross between asparagus and spinach make them a delectable wild spring edible.

Unfortunately, the Cape is a poor hunting ground for the ferns. The lack of freshwater streams, rich topsoil, and heavy forest cover make for little acceptable habitat. But inland, the ground is teaming with them, and local grocery produce vendors have taken notice. Phoenix Fruits in Orleans is offering fiddleheads by the pound fresh from Deerfield, and Ruma Fruit & Produce, an Everett-based specialty store, received a shipment of 2,000 pounds just this morning. Happily, they're willing to share. Wherever you find them, give the fleeting fronds a try—it won't be long before they're gone.


Serves 4-6

Clean 1 pound fresh fiddleheads and boil for at least 10 minutes (the University of Maine Cooperative Extension warms that the ferns should be boiled for 10 minutes before eating, as an outbreak of food-borne illness was attributed to them in 1990. Eating the greens raw or sautéed is not recommended.)

Heat up 3 tablespoons saved bacon fat in a frying pan. Sauté fiddleheads for 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve sizzling as a dinner side.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure where to post this, but I love your blog. We are starting a slow food chapter here on Cape Cod


I'm taking care of the website and we just finished it, just need some more text. We should have our first event this summer.


Chris Gillis

Elspeth said...

Hi Chris:

That's great! We should link up...I will add you guys to my sidebar and maybe there is a place that you could put a link to my blog on the website? Also, if you need help with text I'd be happy to get involved. Let me know!


Chris Gillis said...

Will do, shoot me an email at chrisgillis2 at yahoo dot com and we will talk more.


dianneml said...

I never "got" fiddlehead ferns. Always tasted like swamp water to me. Today, we stopped by our greengrocer in the North End (of Boston) and he gave us a great-sounding recipe on the spot:
Par boil fiddlehead ferns in salted water. Shock in ice water after they are al dente. Try between towels.
Heat olive oil in saute pan. Add thinly sliced garlic. Cook til golden. Crumble in sausage--casing removed--and cook until browned. Add fiddlehead fern. Toss. Add one can cannellini beans and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Toss until all warmed through. Sprinkle with Parmesan. If you try, let us know your thoughts.

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