Quietly and sometimes secretly, a spring tradition is happening all over the area near bogs, streams, water holes and rivers.
People with baskets, plastic bags and anything else that can contain one of nature’s most sought after green are slogging along banks, picking those popular fiddleheads.
It’s only during April and May that these iron and Vitamin C-filled delicacies are ready for the harvesting. Fiddleheads are ostrich ferns, a vegetable that Native Americans discovered many years ago. They must be picked while they are still tightly fiddle-shaped before the fronds turn into real ferns.
Slightly bitter tasting, fiddleheads are a true spring phenomenon. People with covert access to great quantities of these fledgling ferns are often seen parked alongside roads, offering them for sale. Some even appear in local grocery stores, but overall, most are harvested by individuals who know when and where to go.
Although they can be frozen, they are at the tastiest peak when picked fresh, then eaten very soon after. Preparing fiddleheads takes a bit of patience. The scale-like, brownish chaff must be removed, and the fiddleheads must be washed and rinsed many times to remove grit and dirt.
I soak them for an hour or so before rinsing, then repeat several times. The simplest way to prepare them is by boiling them until tender, then serving them with butter and salt and pepper, or vinegar. Some people like to fry up a few strips of bacon, and top the fiddleheads with the crispy bacon and some of the fat.
But these seasonal delicacies can be a part of so many meals, including in omelets, over pasta, in quiches, and in a cream soup.
Here are a couple of recipes for serving them.
Fiddlehead Sauce and Angel Hair Pasta
1-2 pounds cleaned and prepared fiddleheads
one-half pound mushrooms, sliced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
butter or olive oil, or both, enough for sautéing, then a little more salt and pepper
1 pound angel hair or other thin pasta
1 medium-sized onion, sliced thinly, then minced
Place cleaned fiddleheads in a microwave-safe bowl with just a little water. Cover and steam for 5 or 6 minutes. Melt butter in a large fry pan. Add olive oil, if desired. Add sliced mushrooms, garlic, and onions. Saute for a minute or two. Add steamed fiddleheads, and continue sautéing for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If more oil is needed, add now. In the meantime, cook pasta, drain. Heat individual plates. Pile on pasta, then pour on the vegetable mixture, including the oil and butter. Top with grated Parmesan or Romano. Omelets can be filled with many vegetables, meats and cheeses.
Here, fiddleheads is a main ingredient.
Fiddlehead Omelet (2 servings)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute
one-quarter cup finely chopped purple onion
one-quarter cup sweet pepper (orange, yellow or red), chopped
one-half cup chopped mushrooms
one-half to 1 cup cleaned and steamed fiddleheads
one-half cup grated cheese
cherry tomatoes, quartered
fresh chives, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onion and peppers in the oil and butter for a minute or two. Add the mushrooms and prepared fiddleheads and sauté for another 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from frypan and place in a warm oven while making the omelet. Wipe out the frypan with a paper towel. Whisk eggs in a small bowl. Add a little more butter to the heated frypan. Pour in egg mixture. Cook until the bottom of the eggs is done. Use a spatula to push up the egg to let the runny part cook. On one side of the omelet, place the vegetable mixture. Fold over the other half. Sprinkle on the cheese. Cover the pan for a minute or two to allow the cheese to melt. Place on a warmed serving dish. Garnish the top of the omelet with chopped fresh chives. Decorate the plate with quartered cherry tomatoes. Serve immediately.
I may be reached at email@example.com.