Quick Recipes and Easy

Fiddleheads – Music To My Mouth

When the cool breezes turn warm and the spring sunshine cheers our spirits, that is the right time for fiddlehead season. Depending on the weather, the fiddlehead fronds start to appear around late April or early May. They can often be found growing on moist fertile ground along river and stream banks, in open woodlands or at the edges of swamps and marshes. Attempts at cultivating fiddleheads have failed, so they are picked from the wild. Fiddleheads have become more well loved in recent years, showing up in produce departments of larger grocery stores across the country, and can sometimes be found frozen. Wild Canadian fiddleheads are also exported to Europe as a specialty item.

What exactly are fiddleheads anyway? Fiddleheads are one of Mother Nature’s first and finest treats of the spring season. Fiddleheads are the uncurled deep green fronds of the ostrich fern, so called because the fern resembles the finely crafted head of a fiddle. They grow throughout North America and are plentiful in Ontario woodlands. The native people introduced fiddleheads to the settlers and since then they have been a well loved delicacy especially in the Maritimes. The fiddleheads are at their best for eating while young, firm and tightly curled. They tend to lose their table appeal as the fern stalk reaches about 6-8 inches and the frond starts to uncurl. Fiddleheads are delicate in flavour and tastes like a cross between asparagus, green beans and okra.

Fiddleheads are rich in iron, potassium, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorous and vitamins A and C. Fiddleheads were highly prized by the native people as a medicinal plant and were said to act as a natural cleansing agent, ridding the body of accumulated impurities and toxins. It was also said that fiddleheads were regarded as an ancient-time treatment for high pressure and used to ward off scurvy.

There are many varieties of fiddleheads including: Bracken (found worldwide), Ostrich Fern (the one found in Canada and northern regions worldwide), Cinnamon Fern or Buckhorn Fern (found in the Eastern parts of North America), Royal Fern (found worldwide), Zenmai or Flowering Fern (found in East Asia), or Vegetable Fern (found throughout Asia and Oceania). Of course, here in North America the one we eat most is the Ostrich Fern variety. Although other ferns produce fiddlehead-like shoots, some can be toxic and inedible so it is vital to identify the right variety if you are picking fiddleheads in the wild. Also, Health Canada advises that fresh fiddleheads must be properly cooked before being eaten. In 1994 several instances of food poisoning were associated with raw or lightly cooked fiddleheads. No certain source of the food poison was identified, but authorities recommended the thorough cooking of fiddleheads to counteract any possible unidentified toxins in the plant.

If you do choose to go fiddlehead hunting, here are a few tips to aid your search. Fiddleheads grow in clumps and should be picked in a “thinning-out” fashion. By taking only a few fronds from each clump, this allows the plant to grow for the following season. Maintaining sustainable harvesting methods is vital especially in this particular food species that is not farmed. You can use a small knife to cut the heads at the base, but it is also quite possible to break off the heads easily by hand. A excellent tip is the always try to harvest the fiddleheads away from roadsides or other areas where they may have been contaminated by pollution.

To store fiddleheads, keep them in a well cooled place wrapped tightly to prevent drying. You may also wish to trim the stems again before using because the cut end will darken during storage. They can be kept in the refrigerator for approximately 10 days, but they are best if used as soon as possible after harvesting.

To prepare fiddleheads for cooking, snap or cut off the stem if more than 2” remain beyond the coiled part of the fiddlehead. Remove any of the chaff that remains on the fiddleheads by rubbing it off by hand. Then simply wash the fiddleheads in several changes of cold water to remove any dirt or grit that may have accumulated in the coils. Drain completely.

Fiddleheads are very versatile in a cooking sense. They can be used in various similar ways to any firm green vegetable like asparagus or broccoli and are brilliant marinated in vinegar and oil, like a crunchy pickle. They are also fantastic when boiled in salted water until tender, served hot with a bit of butter and salt. They are gorgeous served as a featured vegetable or can be used in a simple stir-fry. They go well with cheese, tomato or cream sauces and are excellent to enliven the flavour and texture of vegetable medleys, soups stews or casseroles.

Fiddleheads are sure to become a favourite in any household once the passion for this elegant small vegetable is learned.

Denny Phillips has made several articles inspired by her like of cooking, travelling and art. Read other articles by Denny on her websites: goodcookingcentral.com goodcookingcentral.com and vacationtravelquest.com vacationtravelquest.com



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