Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fiddle Me This

I like to consider myself a forager of sorts. When I was young, I tended to eat anything that looked remotely edible. True I had been educated in poisonous plants, berries and especially mushrooms. But if there was a bright red berry on a bush, or even just a sprig of green that caught sunlight the right way – I was going to eat it. I figured if it tasted bad, it might be poisonous and I could just spit it out.
Many years later my sister and I were telling our mom how we used to eat a ton of blackberries from the bush in our backyard at the house we lived at in Connecticut. She looked at us with some slight revulsion and informed us that we did not have a blackberry bush, and she had no idea we were eating things in the backyard. Or buttercups, just because Willy Wonka had buttercups you could drink from, didn’t mean I could nibble on the ones in the front yard. At any rate, we still don’t know what those berries were – but they were delicious and did not kill us, so score one for Jamie and Jen.
Since then I have been known to pluck wild wineberries or the occasional grape off a vine in the woods, but that’s about it. I’d rather consider myself an urban forager. I can hunt down a taco stand that won’t inflict lower gastrointestinal distress, and I know the best places for a drink and appetizers on a sunny afternoon.

So when fiddlehead season approached here in Maine, I was torn. Last year while doing some canvassing work for the Census, I spied a few lone fiddleheads on the side of the road. At least I was pretty sure they were fiddleheads. So I picked them, steamed them and ate them. They weren’t very good. Afterwards, I realized they needed a special set of cleaning and preparation guidelines.
This past weekend, when I bought a pound of cleaned fiddleheads from a woman inside a pickup truck on the side of the road, I thought I would put some more effort into their prep. There have been some reports a few years ago that indicated fiddleheads had caused some instances of food sickness, but there was never any proven toxin found in them. It is most important to make sure they are cooked completely.

If you have fiddleheads in your area, and feel comfortable foraging, or know of a good pickup truck to get them, I highly recommend it. They have a light vegetal flavor, almost like asparagus. And go very well with other spring dishes.

Sautéed Fiddleheads

1 pound fiddleheads
2 TB Olive Oil
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of ½ a lemon

Wash the fiddleheads thoroughly, and remove and brown “gills” that are wrapped around them. Blanch the fiddleheads in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Then place them in an ice water bath to keep their color. Then drain.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil and sauté garlic and crushed red pepper for about a minute. Add fiddleheads, with whatever water is still clinging to them. Toss fiddleheads to coat with the oil mixture. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes, until the fiddleheads are cooked trough but not soft. Sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper.


  1. couldn't of done/said it better myself. wish we could get them for $3.00/lb.!

  2. I don't like asparagus but Jen does. Wish I could find them in NC to try out the recipe.

    If they had them down here, they would be deep fried and served with lots of butter. Your recipe sounds better.


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