Once you’ve had a fiddlehead fern, you’ll want to include it in your favorite spring dishes.
Anyone who follows a seasonal diet pays close attention to the first indications of spring. After a long winter of only leafy greens and root vegetables, you’ll be ready for variety! The advent of perennial vegetables such as asparagus, rhubarb, and the fiddlehead fern is one of the tell-tale signals of seasonal shift.
Because they are only available for a short time, these wild-grown coils are popular among foragers. Unfortunately, the plant is no longer edible once the sprouts open up and turn into feathery leaves, so get them as soon as you see them in the market.
They are delicious in any form: on a salad, baked into a quiche, sautéed in butter, tossed with spaghetti, added to pizza, or tempura battered and deep-fried.
What Is a Fiddlehead Fern?
Fiddlehead ferns are edible seedlings of the fern family, called for the scroll on a violin or fiddle.
The fern plants unroll and reach toward the sky in the spring. They can be gathered for a short time when they are coiled in a spiral about one inch in diameter. Fiddlehead ferns have a tender-crisp texture and a sweet and grassy flavor with earthy and nutty undertones when cooked. The taste and texture are commonly described as a cross between asparagus, green beans, spinach, and broccoli stems.
Are Fiddlehead Ferns Safe to Eat?
While practically all fern plants produce fiddleheads, not all are edible. Toxins found in most fiddlehead ferns can cause dizziness, abdominal cramps, headache, diarrhea, and nausea. To avoid foodborne illness, even edible ones must be fully cooked.
Ostrich ferns are widely regarded as the safest edible fiddlehead. Lady ferns are also edible, though some recommend that they be consumed in moderation due to the presence of moderate toxins.
The University of Maine warns against eating bracken ferns since they have been demonstrated in experimental circumstances to cause cancer in mice.
Where to Find Fiddlehead Ferns
Fiddlehead ferns are not cultivated plants, thus, they will not be available at your local farm. (However, developing ostrich ferns in your flowerbed is an excellent edible landscaping option.) Instead, they grow wild in the forest floor’s shade. They can be found in moist environments like river valleys or densely forested areas.
Their season varies greatly depending on location and weather, but they are generally available between late April and early June.
How to Harvest Fiddlehead Ferns
Finding mature ostrich ferns with bright green fronds that fan out and mimic ostrich feathers is the most excellent way to find fiddlehead ferns. Fiddleheads appear in tiny groups around mature plants. Following that, check a harvesting book to ensure you know what to look for when foraging for this wild-grown delicacy.
Ostrich fiddlehead ferns feature a deep grove formed like the letter “U” on the smooth stem and a brown, papery covering on the winding head. If the branch of the fiddlehead is fuzzy and lacks these identifying characteristics, it could be a fern that should not be eaten.
Fiddlehead ferns are ready to pick when the frond is tightly curled and stands two to six inches above the forest floor. Separate the fiddlehead from the stem with a knife or gently snap it off with your fingers. Look for crowns with numerous fiddleheads and leave at least half of the sprouts on the height to encourage long-term growth that will allow you to return year after year.
How to Cook Fiddlehead Ferns
Remove the papery skin from the fiddleheads and rinse them clear of any soil. To assist in releasing any caked-on dirt or filth, immerse them in cold water for a few minutes. Refrigerate the cleaned fiddleheads in a plastic bag for up to a week. If a lengthy stem is attached to the winding head, cut it close to the coil before cooking and discard the stem.
After that, blanch the fiddleheads to ensure they’re properly cooked before eating. Foodborne illness can occur if fiddlehead ferns are consumed raw or undercooked. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil before adding the fiddlehead ferns. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the fiddleheads are soft, then place them in an ice bath to cool.
Blanched fiddleheads can be served cold on salads, but they can also be sautéed in butter or roasted in a high-heat oven for a crisp texture. They go well with almost any spring recipe. If you have more blanched fiddlehead ferns than you can eat in a week, pickle them in your favorite pickling brine or freeze them in freezer-safe bags for up to a year.
Learn more: Can You Eat Pomegranate Seeds?