I love a good ‘hunt’ in the springtime, first for skunk cabbage, then on to fiddleheads! These perennials like rich soil by riverbanks or in the woods. We are fortunate enough to have several patches of them, so I get excited about picking and cooking them.
As for taste, they are much like asparagus combined with artichoke, subtle and mellow and can be cooked and eaten in similar ways. They should be picked when they reach a height of three inches, are curled and still a little ‘rusty’ near the bottoms. Break them off with your fingers but don’t snack until they are thoroughly cleaned. If you pick them wild, be sure to leave some to ensure future generations of the plant. Rub off any brown scales with your hand or toss inside a clean cloth. Rinse them well, and soak in cold water a couple of times to remove the dirt, swooshing them around. Then put them on a cloth to dry. Now they are ready for cooking.
Steam them, or sauté lightly in butter and herbs. Serve with soy sauce, lemon juice or cider vinegar. They only need to be steamed for a few minutes to make them tender. Boiling them is not recommended. Fiddleheads have not always been available commercially; now that they are, their market season is a short window of opportunity. Their growing season only lasts for two weeks whether located in the south or in Canada. They don’t keep well, either, so wrap them in plastic, refrigerate and use within two days.
My family’s favorite way to enjoy them is steamed tender, chilled and served atop a mixed green salad. They are very pretty; they are named for their resemblance to the top of a violin.
Fiddlehead Salad with Vinaigrette
Mixed greens: Mesclun, Watercress, Spinach and/or Arugula
A few fresh mushrooms, sliced paper-thin
Two or more scallions, sliced very thin, include greens
½ cup goat or feta cheese sprinkled on top
4 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Tiny pinch sugar
Salt & Pepper to taste
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.