There is something especially satisfying about eating things you’ve grown yourself. I find that same sort of satisfaction even when I haven’t grown it myself, but have done the footwork of finding, collecting and preparing something mother nature has provided.
Fiddleheads aren’t an especially northwestern Ontario treat, they grow all over Canada. They are only in season for a few short weeks, making them an easy to miss treat if you aren’t watching out for them.
When foraging, it’s always important to be able to properly identify what you are picking. Most ferns make a ‘fiddlehead’ but not all are edible. The Ostrich fern is the one you are looking for. It’s also important to never pick all of the fiddlheads from a ‘clump’. Only take a few, if you take them all the fern will die.
Ostrich fern fiddleheads have a deep, ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the smooth stem with thin, brown, paper-like scales covering the newly emerging fiddleheads. The scales fall off as the fiddlehead grows. Bracken fern (a questionably edible species) have fuzzy fiddleheads and lack the “U”. Here is another site with some helpful photos to help with identification, as well as tips for identification at other times of year.
Preparing fiddle heads for eating
- Remove as much of the papery covering as you can with your fingers.
- Rinse, shaking them up and rubbing off more of the brown papery covering in several changes of cold water. Fiddleheads often grow in sandy soils, so they can be gritty as well.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil.
- Health Canada recommends boiling for 15 minutes – many other sources recommend between 7 and 10.
- After fiddleheads have been boiled, they are now ready to cook however you are going to prepare them.
To prepare to freeze
- Follow steps 1-3 above
- You now have two choices, you can blanch them- boil for two minutes then plunge into icy water.
- Drain and lay flat on a parchment covered cookie sheet, place into freezer bags when frozen.
- If you choose to only blanch them, they STILL MUST be boiled before cooking with them.
You can boil them for the 15 minutes and then plunge into icy water- this way when you go to cook with them you don’t need to do the 15 minute boil.
These fiddle heads have been boiled and are ready to cook with.