Fiddling About

Young ferns make for the freshest of springtime meals

By Edible Pioneer Valley, Photographs by Sandy D’Amato

Fiddleheads, with their deep-green color and springy form, may remind you of a violin straight from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. These bright coils are the immature fronds of ostrich ferns. They sinuously emerge from the soil as the ground warms in spring, and along with ramps, are an easily-foraged addition to your dinner table. They taste like something wild crossed with asparagus and green beans.

Unlike ramps, the supply of fiddleheads is in good shape, so over-forging shouldn’t be a problem. That said, practice good etiquette by always leaving at least 50% of the fronds unplucked. 

Ostrich fern fiddleheads are what most people forage for. Some cultures forage for bracken ferns as well, but this identification guide is only for ostrich fern fiddles. (Some ferns contain toxic compounds, unless you’re an experienced forager, or traveling with one, stick to ostrich fern fiddleheads for safety.) 

Look for a deep, U-shaped groove on the inside of the smooth stem. The fiddlehead coil will be covered in brown papery scales. You want to pick tighty coiled fiddleheads––if they have started to unfurl, leave them alone. 

When you get your bounty home it’s essential to blanch the fiddleheads before final cooking. Wash them well, rubbing off as much of the papery layer as possible. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the fiddleheads for about 5 minutes: The water will become murky brown. Drain them off and either chill them for use later or throw them directly into a sauté pan to finish cooking them. 

The fiddleheads gracing our cover were foraged by Joe Czajkowski from the fields around his Hadeley farm. He had the majority of last spring’s yield flash-frozen and stored at the Franklin County CDC’s Food Processing Center. What a treat to find to find local fiddleheads in January!

Try fiddleheads in Sandy D’Amato’s recipe for Spring Vegetable Ragout.