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The fiddles are coming, the fiddles are coming!

May 15 2:30 pm

by JJ Gonson

Ah, winter, we barely knew ye!

Even though this winter was somewhat less than horrifying from a shoveling perspective, it was still a long time of darkness on our neighboring farms, during which there was no eatable food coming from the ground. The farmers in New England are pretty good at keeping food around for us during the less than fertile months. Potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, onions and cabbages are all remarkably well designed by nature to last through the winter, when properly stored. But, yummy as those foods are, they simply do not compare with a brand new sprout, cut fresh from the soil.

The positive side of the early spring we are enjoying is the also early appearance of the first foods that push up through the soil when the ice recedes. One of the most unique to this part of the country is the fiddlehead fern. This curly little shoot loves the dark, wet soil near moving water, in wooded areas, and is easy to forage so long as you know what you are looking for. There are many kinds of ferns, but the one we eat is the baby frond of the Ostrich fern. The are best harvested when the stem has reached a length of a couple of inches, but the frond has not yet begun to unfurl. Cut them near to the ground to get as much of the stem as possible. When you harvest them they may be covered in a brown papery substance that will be washed away in preparation.

Fiddleheads are very high in antioxidants, iron, fiber and Omega 3 and 6, making them an important nutritionally powerful package after the dullness of the winter months. They are delicious, nutty and crunchy, but they must never be eaten raw. They contain a toxin that is removed in cooking but can make you very sick if you do not prepare them correctly first. This fact may make them appear labour intensive, but they are worth it. Here is how you prepare them to use in salads, or to sauté as a side dish. Happy spring!!

Boil a pot of water big enough to completely submerge all of your fiddleheads (blanch), and prepare a large bowl of ice water to shock them in after.

While the water is boiling, rinse the fresh fronds in another bowl of clear water. Swish them around actively to remove the papery covering and any dirt. Repeat this process at least twice, or as many times as it takes to get rid of all of the brown bits. If the ferns are particularly dirty this could take three or four active washings. The brown stuff will sink and the ferns will float, so try to fish them out, leaving the goo behind.

Once the water is clear, drain the fiddleheads and trim the base of the stems, where they were cut from the ground.

Plunge the cleaned sprouts into the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute, then remove them and immediately submerge them into the ice bath to stop the cooking process.

Your fiddleheads are now safe to eat and cook with. From here you can put them in a salad, pickle them, sauté them with green garlic, or just snack on them as they are- spring’s first perfect snack.









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