What the heck is a fiddlehead?!

Image by Lura Pratson

What the heck is a fiddlehead? For the musically inclined you are certain it has nothing to do with an instrument. For the beer drinkers, you have a better idea of what it looks like from the image plastered on one of your favorite Vermont Microbrews; but have you a clue you can eat this green spiral coil?

This bunch of fiddleheads I captured while hiking on Mount Tom in Woodstock, VT. Photo courtesy of Lura Pratson

A fiddlehead is a young fern before it has matured into its adult peacock feather look we are all most familiar with. The arms of a fern are called the fronds. Here is a link to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources guide to "Common Ferns In Vermont". A fiddlehead is one of the most nutrient-rich greens full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Consisting mostly of protein and carbohydrates, they are also rich in two of the essential fatty acids, omega-3's and omega6's. Some fiddleheads are safe to eat while others are deemed poisonous (see image below).

White Fuzz = Do NOT Eat! Photo courtesy of Lura Pratson

These greens (the safe-to-eat fiddleheads) are in high demand when they are in season. As a young child, I used to help my father pick them from the river banks of the Ottuaquechee and White Rivers. I would put on my muck boots, comfy jeans, and long sleeve tee shirt to venture into the moist and cool riverbanks and wetland forests. For hours we would be bent over and crawling on our hands and knees, collecting as many green coils our eyes could see and our storage would hold. Once done collecting the fiddleheads, we would head home and put on our waterproof tall boots. Our day's bounty we dumped into a laundry basket lined with tightly woven chicken wire and headed for our backyard brook. In the brook, we would swish around, up and down, shaking vigorously to remove the golden brown papery skin that protects the young fern and clean away any dirt and organisms that may be living within. (*Note, I would highly recommend washing again the portion you plan to cook to confirm you have removed any bacteria or organisms.) As a kid, I didn't have too much enjoyment from eating them; rather spending time with my dad in the woods and helping to sell them to the local grocery stores and produce suppliers.

Stream on Mt. Tom in Woodstock, VT near to the fiddlehead patch shown above. Photo courtesy of Lura Pratson

Today I like to eat them, sauteed in butter, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, o yea and more butter! I even went so far as to sautee them with butter and hummus one time - that was pretty tasty! The flavor of a fiddlehead is similar to spinach meets brussel sprouts, although some people think it more closely in flavor to that of asparagus and artichoke. The texture is most similar to spinach and they must be cooked all the way through until tender with a slight crisp to the stem. Click here for more information provided by the University of Maine on how to find, prepare and cook fiddleheads. 

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If you don't happen to find adventure in foraging for your own food, do not be aghast at the price per pound! Finding, cleaning and selling fiddleheads is laborious and time-consuming! Fiddleheads have a short season, that too will play a role in the price, lasting a few weeks to a month. May - June is the best time of year to find them here in the Upper Valley.

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