I realize that the season for fiddleheads has come and gone but I’ve been sitting on this recipe for a few weeks and am just now getting around to posting it. Here is a piece that I wrote for the North Branch Nature Center’s spring newsletter, followed by a recipe for fiddlehead salad:
The sights and sounds of spring are settling in here along the banks of the North Branch River. Flashes of yellow, orange, red, and the occasional blue brighten up an otherwise brown palate as recently-returned warblers bounce among the willow branches in search of six-legged sustenance. It is easy to lose yourself in the crooning of male songbirds in the branches above, but to do so would risk missing out on the seasonal saga unfurling at your feet – that of the Ostrich Fern.
Buried under snow and ice, Ostrich Fern mounds have remained dormant throughout the winter, waiting for the first warm rays of spring sun to awaken. January thaws tend to flood our section of the North Branch, leaving the fern mounds encased in solid blocks of ice. Undeterred, the hardy fiddleheads push forth from their wintery seclusion, stretch out their arms and welcome spring with rekindled vitality. True Vermonters, they have endured winter’s worst and have come out on the other side.
Look for the fiddleheads of the Ostrich Fern throughout early to mid-May. They can be found under the willow and butternut trees that line the riverbanks. Fiddleheads can be identified in part by the brown papery husks that are soon shed as they begin to unfurl into large fronds resembling the tail feathers of their flightless avian namesake. A deep groove, similar to a stalk of celery, runs along the inside of each stem. Other ferns growing alongside the ostrich fern may have cylindrical stems, or fiddleheads with white fuzz in place of the brown husk. Foragers should beware of these look-alikes, as they are known to be carcinogenic. To avoid overharvest, best practice is to follow the rule of ten: for every 10 fiddleheads, harvest only one. Once properly identified, there is no better way to greet spring than with a plate full of freshly sautéed fiddleheads.
Fiddlehead & Blue Cheese Salad
- 3 cups cleaned fiddleheads
- ¾ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1 cup shelled walnuts
- 1 cup maple syrup
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- violets as garnish
Steam fiddleheads for 10-12 minutes and then transfer directly into an ice water bath to stop cooking and hold color. Once chilled, strain the fiddleheads and pat dry. Place walnuts in a small saucepan, pour maple syrup over top and begin to heat. Allow maple syrup to simmer, keeping a careful eye on it and stirring to ensure that it does not burn. Once the maple syrup has reduced to almost nothing, remove the pan from the heat and dump the walnuts out onto a sheet of parchment paper to cool. Once cooled, chop the walnuts which should now have a maple glaze. In a large bowl, toss the fiddleheads with the blue cheese and chopped candied walnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add violet flowers to garnish. Serve cold as a side on your favorite picnic blanket.