Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fiddlehead Time!

These squiggly-looking things are called les têtes de violon (fiddleheads)
because they look like the head of a violin

Our market had them for sale today, at $6.59/kg.
 This package cost me $1.12 Cdn.

The first time I ever saw fiddleheads was after I had moved to Vermont from Boston in 1998.  Some people raved about them, like they were the Greatest Thing Ever.  I considered trying them but had no idea what to do with them once I got them home.  They looked kind of strange.  Like disembodied little aliens.  Some people flat out hated them.  I decided to pass on it.  

These odd-looking things have been eaten for centuries here and in parts of all the Canadian provinces and territories, especially New Brunswick, southern Québec and southern Ontario, but they're also found in flood plains or near rivers and streams in the U.S., Japan, China, Siberia, Scandinavia, Belgium, France, and even parts of the Alps.  The Maliseet Indians of the Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick harvested them as a spring tonic and fiddlehead tea supposedly cures constipation.  I heard somewhere that fiddleheads are the Vermont State vegetable.

Anyway, about five years later, when I was now living in Québec, our next-door neighbor went out one morning down along the river bank and came back with a huge bag of fiddleheads that he had picked, and gave us some. The ferns look sort of like ostriche plumes, the coiled greens like a bag of eyes with tails.   "Look what Luc just gave us," I told my mate and opened the bag so he could see.  He made one of those faces, like he does when you mention the word tofu or yogourt (or goat milk or ginger or kalamari--all things I eat but he won't touch) and said "No thanks."  But I was curious, so found some recipes and decided to give it a try.

These greens are healthy for you, a good source of vitamins A and C, niacin and riboflavin, an on-line nutritionist writes.  You cannot eat them raw like a broccoli stem, though--you might get seriously ill.  I hadn't known that before so it was a good thing I didn't try.  (Not that I would have.)  They're not toxic but trust me, you don't want to eat them raw.  In May, in eastern Canada, they only stay in their coiled form for about two weeks before they start unfurling. Once the leaves grow beyond about 7.5 centimetres, though, the fiddleheads become just too bitter to eat.  So fiddlehead eating season is pretty short.

You have to clean them really well and boil them for 15 minutes (or steam them for 20 minutes).  You can then sauté them with butter and add a bit of lemon.  The taste is hard to describe:  it's sort of like a combination of asparagus and broccoli--some say it tastes like asparagus, green beans and okra.  I loathe okra, and cooked fiddleheads do not have the slimey texture of okra.  I can't reallly describe the taste but if it doesn't stir your taste buds, you can do other, more interesting things with it:  the Fiddleheads Violin Shop in Salmon Arm, British Columbia give their recipes for chocolate dip fiddlehead, fiddlehead pie, and cream of fiddlehead soup, for example.  And I've heard fiddlehead pizza's not half bad either. (They put pineapple on pizzas, why not fiddleheads?)

But really, this is one of those ordinary riverside greens that photographs particularly well.  These ferns absolutely bask in their photogenicity.
A Fiddlehead family

Out taking the air

Psychedelic Fiddleswirl

 You talkin' 'bout me, bub?

Guess I have to eat my fiddleheads alone tomorrow.  Maybe I'll try a Fiddlehead Quiche.

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