Fiddleheads, also known as fiddlehead ferns, are a springtime delicacy consisting of the tightly coiled fronds of a new fern. They’re named because of their resemblance to the curled decoration at the end of a stringed instrument (a perfect example of biomimicry).
The most common type of fern eaten in North America is the ostrich fern, which grows primarily in the northern latitudes, from New England through Canada and Alaska, during April and May. Other types of ferns are enjoyed in other regions, including Northern Europe, East Asia, and Australia. Besides the ostrich fern, the types most often harvested as fiddleheads in North America are the cinnamon fern and the royal fern. Bracken fern is also commonly eaten throughout the world, though it contains a suspected carcinogen, and should be avoided, or eaten only in strict moderation (a few times per year, at most).
Where Can You Find Fiddleheads?
They are usually picked wild in forests and along rivers, though they can sometimes be bought at farmers’ markets or along the roadside. If you plan to pick some yourself, be sure you have permission from the landowner and know for certain what you are picking.
The flavor resembles fresh asparagus or a milder version of broccoli. Most people enjoy them boiled or steamed, then sautéed in butter and garlic or tossed with vinegar. They can also be substituted for other greens in all sorts of recipes. Because the window for fresh fiddleheads is so short, many aficionados freeze or can them to enjoy throughout the year. To freeze, first boil for two minutes, then plunge the drained ferns into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain, and pack them up in freezer bags or containers.
Are Fiddleheads Nutritious?
They are! They’re rich in antioxidants, Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, potassium, vitamin A, iron, and dietary fiber.
How To Cook Fiddleheads
First, remove the papery brown skin and boil the sprouts twice for five minutes each time, changing the water in between boilings. This will reduce the bitterness from the tannins in the plant. Ferns should not be eaten once they pass the tightly coiled fiddlehead stage, as many species become toxic when they mature.
Try some of these other recipes!
4 oz. fiddleheads
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. mustard seeds
1/8 tsp. whole allspice
1/8 tsp. black peppercorns
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Pack fiddleheads into a pint-size jar. Pour vinegar into a small saucepan. Add sugar, mustard seeds, allspice, and pepper to vinegar and bring to a boil. Pour vinegar mixture over fiddleheads. Seal jar and process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Let jar sit until cool. Store in a dark place at least 2 weeks.
1 tablespoon salt
1 pound fiddleheads
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Salt, to taste
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Rinse fiddleheads. In a large pot bring two quarts of water to a boil. Add salt and fiddleheads. Cook 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add fiddleheads. Cook, stirring, until they start to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, if you like, and cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant and just starting to color, about 1 minute. Salt to taste.
2 cups fiddleheads, cleaned, cooked, and cooled
1/2 cup roasted red pepper strips
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, sliced
5 oz. fresh chevre
1/2 cup red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette
Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss together.
1 cup fiddleheads
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
3/4 cup sliced leeks
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups milk
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon lemon juice
In a large saucepan, cook the fiddleheads, mushrooms, leeks, and onions in butter until the onions are tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the flour, salt and cayenne. Gradually add the milk and broth, stirring until blended. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir for 10 minutes. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until heated through. Stir in lemon juice.