Fiddleheads are the young, coiled fronds of the ostrich fern. Nearly all ferns have fiddleheads, but not all fiddleheads are edible. The ostrich fern fiddleheads are edible, and can be identified by the brown, papery, scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern and a deep U-shaped groove on the inside of their smooth fern stem, similar to a stalk of celery. Ostrich ferns emerge in clusters of about three to twelve fiddleheads per plant on the banks of rivers, streams, brooks, and in the woods in late April through early June.
It is important to properly identify ostrich ferns or purchase them from a reputable grower as other types of ferns, like foxglove and bracken ferns, are not safe to eat because they may be toxic or carcinogenic.
How to Buy:
Select small, firm, bright green fiddleheads with no signs of softness or yellowing in a tight coil with only an inch or two of stem beyond the coil.
How to Store:
Carefully remove any papery brown scales. Wrap fresh fiddleheads tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Minimize air exposure to prevent them from turning brown and going limp or dry.
Blanch fresh fiddleheads by placing them in hot water for two to three minutes and then immersing them in an ice water bath for two minutes. Drain them in a colander or salad spinner to remove excess moisture and allow them to dry out slightly before placing them in a freezer bag. They will keep in the freezer for several months.
How to Prepare:
Do not trim the end of the fiddlehead until just before preparing as it will turn brown and dry out. Do not eat fiddleheads raw. Always boil fiddleheads in fresh water or steam them for 10-15 minutes before serving or cooking them according to other methods to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Fiddleheads are delicious roasted, grilled, boiled or sautéed – after they have been pre-boiled or steamed. Although fiddleheads can be added to any dish that includes vegetables, a common way to enjoy them is with butter, salt, pepper, lemon juice and garlic or parmesan cheese. Although fiddleheads may be compared to asparagus, artichokes, beet greens, okra or green beans, they have a unique flavour worth seeking out.
How They Are Grown:
Ostrich ferns are often found near rivers or streambeds but they do not thrive with excessive moisture. They grow best in shade or beneath high hardwood canopies. They prefer sandy or silt loams over soil with too much clay. The fiddlehead industry remains quite small in Canada and many people forage for them in the wild.
Fiddleheads should only be picked while still tightly coiled. The short stem is also edible. Sustainable harvest practices are very important and it is recommended to leave over half the fiddleheads from any one crown to ensure its survival. If there are fewer than four fiddleheads on a crown, the fern should not be harvested as it is either too young or stunted. Care must also be taken when harvesting by snapping them off or cutting them from the plant.
Canadian Crop is Available: May through early June depending on the weather and location
Grown in: New Brunswick, PEI, southern Quebec, southern Ontario and BC.