It was a rainy May Saturday morning at the indoor farmer’s market within the State of Maine Cheese shop. After considering little jugs of honey, and sampling an especially terrific batch of Prix de Diane from Lakin’s Gorges Cheese, I bought a dozen brown eggs, a marigold plant, and a $2 bag of fiddlehead ferns. In spring in Maine, we have mud, and we have fiddleheads. Cold nights and windy days. Dandelions and rain. Contrasts and warming beauty. Fiddleheads are foraged food, forest food, spring food. You love them or hate them. Anticipate the sweet fleeting weeks of their availability, or cringe at the childhood memory of being force fed ferns by an overzealous grandma.
Fiddleheads look like snails, dark green fibonacci fronds. When I unfurl one it looks like a primal rainforest plant. As I polled the food cognescenti hanging around I got recipe advice (“bake them with ricotta!”) and mixed feelings. “I go back and forth on them” was one man’s ambivalent reply. Influenced mostly by his dad’s general hysteria regarding anything he thought of as “hippie food,” Malcolm’s lingering impression was that they were gross, but upon tasting conceded that they were fine. Many go so far as to sing their praises. Is there any real reason to eat them, or are they just another faddish food fetish object found at the farmer’s market?
It’s one of those rare instances when everyone is right. They are astringent, bitter, strange. They taste like spring and earth. Old timers simply boil them and boil them and boil them again, in a typically Protestant fashion, washing away the sins of the earth. A new generation of chefs and cooks add bacon and Parmesan for an umami taste component, to balance their natural grassiness. I thought it best, as usual, to come to rest somewhere in the middle. Eating fiddleheads is a rite of spring, a ritual in which we make meaning through our deliberate, annual actions. They were pleasant in this easy preparation; like asparagus, but woodsier. Oh, and dirty, so definitely wash them.
How to Cook and Eat Fiddlehead Ferns
Makes about two cups [sc:ziplist]
- 2 cups fresh fiddleheads
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Squeeze of lemon
In a saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil. Add fiddleheads, and cook until water comes back up to a boil. Drain and rinse.
In a saute pan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add garlic, par boiled fiddleheads, salt, and pepper. Saute 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and finish with a squirt of lemon.