FIDDLEHEADS, THE TIGHT SCROLLS of ostrich ferns as they first appear an inch or so above ground each spring, are making their annual appearance in New England’s moist woodlands. Like everything else this spring, they are earlier than usual by a good two weeks. Fresh fiddleheads are beautiful to behold, and also flavorful, free, and ephemeral—the season lasts for only about two weeks.
After giving them a good soak in water, I cook them by bringing half an inch of water to a boil in a skillet, tossing the fiddleheads in, covering the skillet, and cooking for five minutes. The microwave works just as well, too.
They are perfectly delicious with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Tuesday night I substituted soy sauce for salt, and Wednesday I served them with a dash of balsamic vinegar. Another night I added them to a can of lentil soup, where they added both color and texture. Last night I put some in a red sauce served over pasta.
Before the season is out, I will sauté fiddleheads in olive oil with garlic and sprinkle them with some parmesan cheese. Their mild, earthy flavor goes with just about anything.
Fiddleheads are also nutritious, a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. If you don’t know where to find them or are unable to get out in time, fiddleheads are now sold at many grocery stores.
But the best thing about fiddleheads is not their nutritional value or flavor, the fact that they are free for the picking or available for such a brief time. Fiddleheads are among the first greens of spring, their scrolls luring our attention back to earth like beckoning fingers.
Seeking out, picking, and ingesting fiddleheads is one of our most intimate acts with the planet. They remind us that earth provides for us, regardless of our intention.