The Ostrich Fern
Fiddleheads, are the curled sprout of the Ostrich Fern, Matteucia
struthiopteris, a delicate and delicious spring vegetable found in a variety of
habitats across North America.
Look for fiddleheads as soon as the earliest spring flowers
bloom and anywhere you've see ferns growing before. You want to harvest them while they
still retain a curl at the top and like asparagus, use as much of the stem below the curl
as you can collect. This part is often overlooked and is every bit as good as the top. The
fiddleheads pictured left are actually a little small to harvest. Waiting until they are 6
to 10 inches tall will yield a lot more to eat. And when harvesting leave about half the
fronds there to insure the survival of the fern.
There should be two types of fronds, the bright green
infertile, food producing leaves (left) and the brown fertile spore producing fronds
The stem rising up to the fiddlehead should have a groove
in it similar to a celery stalk but narrower and the stem should be smooth and not furry.
The distinctive feature of the Ostrich Fern is the brown
papery material you can see in the picture above. It may be stuck in the curl but
shouldn't stick to the stem.
One nice thing about fiddleheads is that there are no
deadly ferns but some can get you sick, some people may be allergic, and I would always
cook them to avoid bacteria...salmonella, etc. which I've heard can be a problem.
Wash the fronds, or even soak in salted water to chase the
bugs out and saute with butter. For a change try sauteing with chives and chive flowers or
adding a little white wine and Dijon mustard.
Related: A Forager's Spring Feast