Fiddleheads: A New England Delicacy
By Marcia Passos Duffy

New Englanders are a frugal bunch.  
Mention “free” and we’ll come in a hurry.  
Free food falls into this category – as in
“free for the picking.” When spring
arrives in northern New England,
the free food abundant in the woods
is fiddleheads.

While the best fiddleheads spots are often
a guarded secret (akin to Provence, France’s
delicacy, truffles) – finding them is a special treat.  These sprouts, in the shape of the top of a fiddle, are
actually the young coiled leaves of shoot of the ostrich fern.  While nearly all ferns have “fiddleheads”
those of the ostrich fern are unlike any other – they are delicious!

According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, fiddleheads (which appear during April
and May) should be harvested as soon as they appear within an inch or two from the ground. Brush out
and remove the brown scales.  Wash and cook the “heads” in a small amount of lightly salted boiling
water for ten minutes or steam for 20 minutes. Serve at once with melted butter. The quicker they are
eaten, the more delicate their flavor.  

But before you run out to collect these little delicacies, be forewarned that the Center for Disease Control
has found a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness associated with fiddleheads (nothing is simple,
right?)  But the outbreaks occurred when the ferns were eaten raw or lightly cooked (as in sautéed,
parboiled or micro-waved).  So…cook your fiddlehead thoroughly before eating them…boil them for at
least 10 minutes.  After than, you can eat them right away, or freeze or pickle them.

If you’re unsure of what a fiddlehead looks like (make sure you know what an edible fiddlehead looks
like because some ferns can be poisonous) or have no desire to muck through the woods during mud
season to pick them, you can sometimes find them in your produce section if you live in New England or
Canada.   If you can’t find them, ask your grocer (if he or she knows what they are!) — fiddleheads can be
special ordered.  

About the author:  Marcia Passos Duffy is the author of the special report:
Learn to Cook Delicious (and Easy) Dishes with Fiddlehead Ferns.
©The Heart of New England online magazine
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SPECIAL REPORT:
Learn to Cook Delicious
(and Easy!) Dishes with
Fiddlehead Ferns

By Marcia Passos Duffy
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont