5.19.2011

The Local Food Report: the cinnamon fern

In Maine, this time of year, you eat fiddleheads. It doesn't really matter if you're particularly fond of them, or whether or not you have some fantastic recipe, or even a foraging spot. You pick some up at a farmers' market, or maybe the local health food store, and you dig in. I'm not even especially crazy about the ferns, but still; it's one of those rituals I've missed.


Until this year. I was at work the other night, one of the first nights, pulling at my tights and standing in the kitchen eating bread. In the corner, spread out near the sink, I saw what looked like a pile of fiddleheads. They were green fern heads, still tightly curled like the regular Ostrich fern type, but instead of looking relatively clean, they were covered all over with a sort of fine, fuzzy hair. The cooks told me that a local forager had brought them in and that they were a different kind of fern—a Cinnamon fern—a kind that tasted pretty similar but was really difficult to clean. They could get the fuzz off by running the ferns under cold water and rubbing at the stalks, but for a restaurant kitchen, it was way too much work. They gave me the forager's name, though, and I called him: Charlie Grimm.

Charlie took me along with him last week—I can't say exactly where, as I'm sworn to secrecy— it was in Truro, in the woods, in a place that was both mossy and a little bit boggy. It was also pretty shady, and there, under a canopy of tall hardwoods, we found lots and lots of Cinnamon ferns. Some were open, but most were still pretty tightly curled, and we picked enough for Charlie to take home and cook for his family. I would have tried some, but apparently one study linked extremely heavy fern consumption in Japan to stomach cancer and an inability to absorb certain important B vitamins, and while that's all fine and good for a normal, healthy adult eating a few every now and again, it didn't seem like such a good idea for an unborn baby. So, Charlie took them home, and I took pictures.


But he did send me his recipe—a very delicious sounding recipe involving butter and garlic and high heat and sauteing—and I wanted to pass it along. That way it's recorded this year for you, and next year for me. Happy foraging, friends.

CHARLIE GRIMM'S HOW-TO ON CINNAMON FIDDLEHEADS

Clean thoroughly, removing the downy hairs as completely as possible, and wash well in cold water. Boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes. (Charlie says he's eaten the fern heads raw with no ill effects, but that it's not recommended as they do contain some mild toxins that can give you indigestion.)

Drain and saute in a hot pan with butter and minced garlic, adding salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm.

Alternatively, after you've boiled the ferns, simply dress them with a vinaigrette, like you might with asparagus.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.