Friday, July 4, 2008

Fiddlehead Fern

Shhh! Come closer, but don't wake it. I'm afraid if you even breathe on it, the shock will make this delicate little creature suddenly awaken from its peaceful slumber, unfurling violently from its tight coil. I stumbled across a box of these wild fiddlehead ferns at Rainbow Grocery, tucked in nonchalantly next to the exotic mushrooms. This one comes from Wineforest, Oregon, though they tend to grow in the eastern U.S. between the months of April and July. At $12.99/lb., I was content to buy a single stem for about 25 cents, just to sample it.

From the info sheet that the good people of Rainbow had thoughtfully posted, I learned that the fiddlehead's name comes from the way it resembles the spiral end of that folksy instrument (apparently "violinhead" doesn't evoke the same down-to-earth feel) and that its known aliases include "ostrich fern" and "pohole." It remains coiled for two weeks but they recommend keeping it for only two days in the fridge. In sheepish full disclosure, I admit that I forgot this sleeping beauty in its plastic baggie for the full two weeks, where it nevertheless remained magically wound, though a little soggy.

After rinsing it off a bit, I bit into the forest-green stem and was delighted to find it was still crisp, kind of like celery.
Rainbow describes the taste as similar to asparagus, green beans, or even okra. I'd say that mine reminded me of green beans the most but with a kind of "gamey" taste, if you can imagine what gamey might mean for a vegetable: layers of flavor suggestive of thriving free in nature, a little darker, grittier, deeper. The only slightly alarming element was the head's baby fern leaves, whose proliferation of crunchy coiled segments reminded me of the pan-fried silk worm pupae I once ate out of politeness in Vietnam.

Update 7/22: Just in case you don't religiously read all the comments, Erin's friend Kim just informed us that the fiddlehead is indeed toxic, at least in Maine. So don't eat them raw, though I really did enjoy my crunchy little critter. Her cooked version of fiddlehead is here.


eek said...

Your photos are positively magical! I'm amused to see that (in keeping with our tendency toward vegetable reverence) you bought a single fiddlehead and treated it like a sun-ripened tomato in winter.

I remember the fiddleheads I consumed in Massachusetts (where I lived for a single season) being smaller, more pea-green and charmingly larval. I ate them sauteed with garlic, and was told at least once that they're poisonous when raw.

Wikipedia tells me that many types of furled fern fall into the fiddlehead category (since the moniker's based on the plant's appearance), so either your iron stomach conquered the fatal acid, or this west-coast variety lacks the bitter chemical present in its east-coast brethren.

Also, I'm in love with your definition of gamey.

Katrina D. said...

Olive you! See you around on the blog annex.

Kim said...

Hi ladies!

Erin, dear friend you already know me and lived in the woods sans-agua with me for 48 hours, but allow me to introduce myself, Katrina: I'm Kim, EEK's friend from Telluride.

I just wanted to add a note about the fiddleheads here in Maine. They are indeed toxic (if not boiled), as a coworker unknowingly ate them raw in a salad and was toilet-side for an entire eve. Yuck.

I wrote about these lil' guys, too, upon my arrival in Maine

They're adorable! They were lots cheaper than Rainbow was selling them for, but they were grown here in Downeast Maine.


Katrina D. said...

Kim - Erin's told me every embarrassing detail about you. Thanks for the advisory note. And know this - that every comment left on our site brings a drop of liquid joy to each eye. And will you please lock Erin in the closet until she posts something new when she visits you in Maine? thanks!