Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fiddleheads

Lunch, 2017

I've seen young furled ferns while hiking and I have always admired their beauty, but never had any idea if they were edible. I did know some people ate a fern called fiddlehead, so when I, always interested in experimenting with a new fruit or vegetable, saw them at the farmers market, I snatched them up immediately and took them home.

Once I got home, things became a bit more complicated. I tried to do some research online, but as is often the case, there were a variety of opinions, and I wasn't sure who to trust. For instance, it wasn't exactly clear how I should clean the fiddleheadswhich cleaning specifics I should classify as necessary and which I could write off as too precious. Each fern was heavily decorated with brown papery threads. I didn't know if the threads were only undesirable from a textural perspective, or inedible.

I also learned quickly that the fiddlehead eaten raw or undercooked could make a person sick. I saw the word toxins, I saw carcinogenic, and I saw clear instructions to thoroughly boil them to make them safe to eat. The amount of boiling varied. I started wondering if I should eat them at all, but that went away quickly. Maybe I've spent too much time with my daredevil father. I moved forward.

I cleaned them up, still unsure if they were quite right, and boiled them for 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the boiling meant that they lost their bright color, the vibrant green you see in so many photos, but I'd decided that I wouldn't risk poisoning myself for aesthetic purposes.

While my penne boiled I made a new mess by trying to clean up my now boiled fiddleheads a bit more. Then I trimmed the bruised ends (I surely could have done that earlier, but...) and cut them into bite-size pieces (I thought some of the unfurled parts were too long. I'm one of those people that isn't fond of huge lettuce leaves in my salad, or giant pieces of broccoli I cannot fit into my mouth in my stir-fry.) The second cleaning and trimming was followed by a sauté in olive oil with garlic and capers. I tossed the fully prepared fiddleheads with al dente penne and squeezed fresh lemon juice on top.

It really was a delicious lunch, but I'm not sure fiddleheads are worth the worry and preparation time. Wouldn't I have been pleased with any vegetable prepared with olive oil, capers, garlic, and lemon? I think so. I know so.

Still, I might try preparing them again. As with most things in life, listening to advice, reading instructions, and watching what others do will only get you so far. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Learning, and the comfort that follows, takes time.

My bowl is empty. At the moment I appear to be alive, and not feeling at all woozy. Cross your fingers for me.

8 comments:

  1. I had the same 'eh' reaction the first time I had fiddle heads. Mine was with a salmon alfredo of sorts. I can't remember if I boiled or sautéed them... the question I have... I thought fiddlehead was the generic name for 'young fern'. Around here it is most common with bracken fern (pteridium aquilinium)...or is it a specific fern? By the way... your pasta bowl looks amazing!

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    1. I realize now I should have asked more questions, but I don't even remember what the sign said. I paid little attention, but from what I've read about our area I believe I bought ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).

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    2. I did the same when I purchased them to try..no idea the species. Which makes me wonder if fiddleheads from different species taste the same? We both had similar reactions (and now I remember I boiled first and sautéed second)...while very likely eating two different species. More research needed!

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    3. Report back if you learn anything new or eat some more and I'll do the same. : )

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  2. hope your still feeling fine?!

    can´t bring myself to eat - even young - fern... there´s a lot growing in my garden but it´s poisonous looks impress me too much. i confine myself to looking at it or cutting a leaf for a bouquet, but that´s all.

    you´re way more bold then i - good for you!

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    1. It is the next day and I've survived. Thank you for hoping. :)

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  3. Is fiddlehead a generic term for the unfurling of new growth or is it a particular fern? I like to imagine wandering into the Northwest's forests to forage the sword fern. But the young leaves of stinging nettle also beckon me, and I pass them by because of their high work-to-tastiness ratio. For me, fiddleheads fall into the same category -- a romantic and winsome notion/name. Meanwhile, I continue eating and enjoying my asparagus and kale from the grocery store.

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    1. Yes, I believe fiddlehead is a generic term. I understand your feelings about these young ferns and nettles. I do like the taste of nettles. I buy mine in a bag at the farmers market, but without even foraging for them, they still seem pretty high-maintenance to me. I only bought them twice this year. I also think of rapini, artichokes, fresh fava beans, and loquats, and question how willing I am to invest the effort they require. I also like kale and strawberries and apples and carrots and life is easier with them. I'm reminded of when my mom started cutting back on making deep-dish pizza from scratch, and other similar things in her life. I recall my disappointment, but as I get older I'm beginning to understand her reasoning.

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