There is a delicious treat growing in the backyards of Dutchess County. They are better known as fiddleheads, but regardless of the subspecies, all fiddleheads are a part of the fern family. The first sprouts of a young fern push through the loose soil in early April and emerge as tightly curled, pinwheel-stems that resemble the top of a handle of a fiddle. As the plant matures the stems slowing unravel to reveal the familiar wide and delicate fern-leaf spread. Though some local farms grow them for sale wild ferns can be found all over New York in shaded, wet area. If you want to wander about and harvest your own they are easy to locate as they are an extremely predominant plant species along creeks and on the borders of marshy areas.
Although there are several edible varieties the Ostrich fern is typically the variety harvested for human consumption. Should you decide to gather your own please be sure to research the varieties of edible species and be able to distinguish them clearly from non-edible. It is important you only harvest ferns listed as edible as there are several varieties are poisonous. It should be also noted that the growing season for the heads is very short. They typically emerge in mid-April and can be found with some effort as late as mid-June.
So what do fiddleheads taste like? Some people have noted a taste that is reminiscent of a cross between asparagus and broccoli. Others have said they have a flavor combination more closely related to roughage like spinach and broccoli rabe. But regardless of flavor or whether you get them from a farmers market or pick your own, fiddleheads should always be cooked!
There are several means of preparing them, the most common being steaming, sauteing and baking. The method, however, is less important than the preparation. Fiddleheads often have a rough skin (somewhat like an onion) that may still be encasing them. It is important to clean the heads thoroughly and remove all traces of the skin prior to cooking. Generally, the skin will easily slide off by simply running the heads under water.
Once clean and a method of cooking decided the next step is to monitor them. Fiddleheads do not take long to cook but should be cooked thoroughly. Ideally, a fiddlehead should be very tender and maintain a bright green color and overcook should be avoided as they will become dry and wilted.
Now that you know all about this little, hidden, treat all that is left is to give them a try! Check out my tasty, no-hassle, fiddleheads sauteing recipe. Throw them over just about anything, chicken, eggs, fish or even a salad and give your meal an extra pop of excitement.