Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fiddlehead time

Spring time in Maine means one local specialty is seasonably available: fiddleheads. I never heard of fiddleheads before I moved to Maine, but in the spring people get as excited about them as they are excited about blueberries. Fiddleheads can be found in grocery stores, at the farmers market, at Whole Foods but also in the ‘wild’.

I have been looking for fiddleheads myself in previous years, and found different types of fern but was not sure if they are indeed fiddleheads. So, here are the distinctive features. “It’s an ostrich fern if:

  • • The coils are about an inch in diameter.
  • • A brown papery sheath is peeling off the coils.
  • • A deep “U”-shaped groove is on the inside of the fern stem.
  • • The fern stem is smooth (without fuzz).

So, the fern to the left is something else and fiddleheads are to the right (below). There are different varieties of ferns, but the ostrich and cinnamon fern are the only ones that are edible and safe to eat. Other varieties look similar but may be poisonous.


In Maine, fiddleheads usually emerge in clusters of three to 12 on the banks of rivers, streams and brooks in April and May. They should be harvested when the coils are an inch or two above the ground.

Fiddleheads contain about 22 calories per half cup serving. Fiddleheads also provide a good amount of vitamin C, niacin and potassium. The taste of fiddleheads is unique. “It has been described as grassy and spring-like with a hint of nuttiness, or as a cross between asparagus and young spinach. Some say it has a flavor similar to an artichoke, maybe with a whiff of mushroom. “

They have to be thoroughly cleaned under running water, and steamed in boiling water for at least 10min. After that, they can be sauted in a bit of butter or later served cold within salads, such as mixed salads with greens, cranberries and blue cheese.


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