Monday, May 9, 2011

on fiddleheads

ostrich fern

three years ago i moved to new england and became fascinated with fiddleheads. besides lettuce and mache, they are one of the earliest spring foods available here. we are lucky to have abundant fiddleheads on the property where we live. i hear that they cost $8.00 a pound at the local market. i find it so satisfying to be able to walk out my front door and harvest my supper, whether it's from the garden or from the woodlands.

fiddleheads small

fiddleheads are the new growth of the ostrich fern--small and unfurled is how you want to pick them. a quick word of caution before i continue: the ostrich fern fiddleheads are the only ones you should eat. luckily, they are pretty easy to identify. when we first began our foray into foraging, we asked a local to take us on a walk and show us which were the ostrich ferns. i recommend learning from someone who is familiar with edible plants just to play it safe.

the brown chaff you see on these fiddleheads is another indication that you have found the right type of fern. in the above photo, the three smallest fiddleheads are the perfect size of harvesting. just use a knife or scissors. also, please harvest sustainably. don't cut every fiddlehead--leave some so the plant will thrive. you'll want to harvest again next year, right?


next you need to clean the fiddleheads and remove the brown papery chaff. give them a quick rinse and then soak them in water for at least 15 minutes. carefully remove each fiddlehead, wiping off any brown chaff that may still be attached and rinse again.

now, it's time to boil them. boil for 5 minutes, drain the water (it will be brown--this is normal) and add fresh water. boil for another 5 minutes and then drain. so, remember cook thoroughly for TEN minutes--undercooked fiddleheads can make you sick. after the double boil, you can saute them with onions and garlic in a little olive oil and eat them as a side dish or use to top a salad. we like to make a vermont fiddlehead pie with seriously sharp cheddar and a dollop of whole grain mustard. what do fiddleheads taste like, you ask? i find that they remind me of asparagus and perhaps, too, artichokes. i hear they pair well with bacon and make excellent pickles.

vt fiddlehead quiche

my husband and i find that slices of this pie are best eaten outdoors on a beautiful spring day served with a glass of homemade rosy rhubarb soda (rose geranium and rhubarb simple syrup + seltzer).

rosy rhubarb soda

here's to spring!


  1. So fabulous!! Wild food is so exciting. We have many ferns we can eat in the same way here in Australia yet I have never tried... feeling inspired.

  2. oh wow!
    that sounds amazing...
    i wonder if i can find them here...
    i hear they do wild garlic hunts
    here in the spring!
    thanks shari!

  3. yes! this is just the info i needed. i had thought that the fiddleheads in between my house and my neighbor's would be edible, but i'm pretty sure they're not this type. i'll have to look more closely tonight. that pie sounds amazing.

  4. They are so pretty! I love them all coiled up in the bowl. I couldn't agree more, it is so satisfying to walk out your door and harvest what you'll be eating for any meal. When you add homemade Rosy Rhubarb Soda to that meal, well, I just don't know what to say...

  5. i want some fiddlehead pie and rosy rhubarb soda this very minute!