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.