Thursday, May 22, 2014

The One Where I Wax Poetical About Fiddleheads

This time of spring in Wisconsin, it's all about morel mushrooms. Folks hunt them in the woods and jealously guard secret spots where they grow in the leaf litter. But where I come from, the Northwoods of Maine, this time of year means FIDDLEHEADS!

A fiddlehead is the edible frond of the Ostrich fern.  It grows near streams and other wet areas and is picked as the first, spring shoots break the ground. They are still curled up in a spiral that looks like a 'fiddle's head' . There are many ferns that grow in the woods and some of them are poisonous, but the Ostrich fern can easily be differentiated by it's grooved stem and the brown papery substance that covers it's curl.

I think fiddleheads do grow in Wisconsin but they don't eat them here. I live in the city and don't have access to growing grounds.  I am fortunate to have some frozen ones when I go home to visit and on occasion have scored some cans of 'Bell of Maine' fiddleheads that hit the spot after a long time without the real thing, but I haven't had fresh fiddleheads for at least 20 years or so...until yesterday!

My Mum, who apparently loves me dearly, sent me a box of fresh fiddleheads in the mail! Emerald treasure! After  a quick tutorial on the phone with Mum on how to clean and freeze them, I set to work. First to get the brown paper off. Everyone has their own method for big batches. I remember, as a kid, batches being put in the clothes dryer to remove the chaff and or a blow dryer bring used. Friend, Billy Lane, apparently can assemble parts from the hardware to make and official 'fiddlehead cleaner' but I'm not sure what that it exactly. The vision in  my head of the possibilities (most involve a car battery, some welding rods, a leaf blower  two hex wrenches, and copious amounts of WD-40 and duct tape)  is entertaining though.  For this batch, or 'mess' as they are called I attended to each and every one personally, unfurling it and gently sloughing the paper away.

Here are some are with the brown paper removed and the stems trimmed. Well, most of the paper removed. That stuff is like tissue paper and the fiddleheads were damp which made for some fun trying to remove it! It's worth every moment spent. 

Once the paper is removed you rinse them in 'three waters'.  That is the exact term my mother used.; you put them in clean, cold water and 'schwizzle them around' (another Mum instruction) and drain the water and repeat two more times. 

I blanched a couple of small messes and froze them, then cooked up the rest. By this time it was going on 8:30 but I didn't care. I put a serving in a cereal bowl, added a pat of butter and a bit of sea salt, turned off the TV, closed my eyes and just savored every bite. 

Oh. My. Dog. Delish.  People describe the taste as a cross between asparagus and mild mushrooms. To me they taste like the stream, the woods and Maine spring home. Wicked good, Deah!

I highly encourage you to try them if you ever have an opportunity. You can get them on-line in the spring. They are spendy but worth it. Or if you're in Maine, you can check in with the FiddleHead Warden, Gerald Jackins, and he will let you know when the Episcopal Church Fiddlehead Supper is and you can sample Fiddlehead Quiche. Or you can get a canoe and try your hand at picking your own; just don't ask anyone where their secret spot is!


Michelle said...

I've heard of fiddleheads but thought it was the new growth of ANY fern. Good thing I didn't decide to eat wild and try the ones around here; I'm pretty sure they aren't ostrich ferns! They sure sound yummy, and your mum is the best. :-)

Michelle H said...

Hahaha, I thought that, too. Glad I haven't raided my yard and gotten sick for my efforts. Thanks for the clarification! They sound so very yummy, how wonderful of your mum to send you some!!

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