Fiddlehead Season Is So Close, But True Mainers Can Hardly Wait
Having lived in Maine my whole life, I know pretty darned well what a fiddlehead is. Most of us do. There is a whole new group of people moving to Maine all the time right now from out of state, that may have no idea what we're even talking about. Thanks to the pandemic, we've become the "safe zone" to the world.
But you know, why not? As such, perhaps these new transplants from the big city may enjoy learning a few things. They might as well learn now, that they're one of our most beloved seasonal delicacies, but also quite polarizing. Not like Moxie or the tomalley out of a lobster, but you may find more turned up noses than you'd think.
For those all the way in the back who may not know, fiddleheads are young ostrich ferns. There's a pretty narrow window for harvest that lasts for several weeks, and they become too mature to be edible. But when in season, they are absolutely delicious. They have a flavor, in my opinion, somewhere between spinach and asparagus. Before you even get to eating them though, there is a little bit of prep work to be done.
First, if you're going to harvest them on your own, you definitely do plenty of research to make sure you're actually getting what you're after. Not all ferns are safe to eat, and you need to know what you're seeing 100% before eating them. Check out this video from the UMaine Cooperative Extension to give you a good background in finding and ID'ing them.
Then, whether you harvest them or buy them, they'll need to be properly trimmed, cleaned, and prepped. When trimming, you want to pick off all the papery bits, Also the ends can be kind of tough. Feel free to trim off a good portion. Then, they'll need to be extensively rinsed before cooking, and it could take several rinses to get them totally clean. They grow by the river, there's plenty of mud, dirt, and potential animal waste on them.
The most important part though, is that fiddleheads need to be cooked before they can be eaten. Raw fiddleheads are downright toxic. You will question every decision you you've ever made if you eat raw fiddleheads. You'll experience plenty of nausea, and could quite likely expect vomiting and/or diarrhea.
They should be boiled for 15 minutes, or if you steam them, a good 10-15 minutes of solid steam. This will ensure they're safe to eat. this should all happen even if you plan on adding them to another recipe. For instance, sautéing them in butter for a while may not be enough. Don't mess with this step, or you'll regret it.
Once you've got them ready to go, the sky is the limit! you can add them to recipes you're working on, but I personally just like them with a bit of salt, pepper, butter, and a splash of cider vinegar. It's the way my grandmother showed me when I was a kid, and I don't really care about them any other way, hahaha.
Now that you're armed with knowledge for fiddlehead season, you can just hurry up and wait like the rest of us. But once it starts, they'll be everywhere. And I can't wait.