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Fiddlehead Ferns


cjsadler
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There's a interesting article in today's NY Times about Fiddlehead Ferns and Ramps (both foraged & as an early cash crop for farmers).

A sidebar to the article has a good looking ramps & potato soup recipe (with bacon & cream) NY Times food section

Giant actually starting selling fiddleheads last year (for only like $2.99 a pound). Haven't seen them this year, but I thought they were really tasty, with a flavor somewhere between an artichoke and a mushroom (this article keeps saying they are bitter, but I didn't find that to be the case).

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The person complaining that the fiddleheads she ate were bitter probably picked the wrong fern variety. True ostrich fern fiddleheads, dark green with papery coverings, IIRC, grow only in the Northeast. There is an edible fiddlehead in the West, although I have never tasted it--"bracken" fern, I think. I have eaten NE fiddleheads many times, and was an enthusiastic fiddlehead forager when I lived in Vermont. I have to say, that even with years of eating experience since my Vermont years, I have never tasted a more delicious vegetable. Steamed until just tender and served with hollandaise or just tossed in butter, they taste like a slightly sweet, nutty cross between asparagus and artichoke heart. To pickle fiddleheads IMO, is wanton mischief, bordering on the criminal. They taste of nothing but the pickling liquid. Pickling as a means of preserving and transforming, is fine for cucumbers, cabbage and other ordinary vegetables. Fiddleheads should be eaten fresh, in the early Spring, when they are sublime, and then not until the next year.

I did have another type of fern, picked inadvertently along with some ostrich fiddleheads, and tasted it cooked, just to see. It was indeed, very bitter.

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Okay, let's switch to green things, first.

1) Fiddlehead ferns.

Only bought them once, pickled and bottled in Maine. Saw them fresh for $6 or $7 a lb. at Balducci's this weekend. Compact, with all those little potential fronds curled up, I could tell that keeping them unmushy in a big pile was a challenge.

Since it looks as if ramps are through, would I be justified in calling these the new hot seasonal thing in retail stores--as opposed to pea shoots outside in the market? Do you buy and cook them? Are they more than just a novelty?

I've gotten fiddleheads a couple of times this Spring, at Trader Joe's, for $2.99 for about a half pound in a package, which said they were from Maine. I had to pick through the packages to find one that was less browned than the others, but other than trimming the end and rinsing, there was little prep. And they were delicious. I used to forage for them when I lived in Vermont, where they were very popular--and heard at the time that they were offered in high-falutin' restaurants in Boston at very high prices. This was thirty years ago, so if they are the "new, hot thing" in DC, it's taken a long time for them to travel down here. Pickled fiddleheads taste only of the pickling liquid. A complete waste of fiddleheads IMHO.

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I've gotten fiddleheads a couple of times this Spring, at Trader Joe's, for $2.99 for about a half pound in a package, which said they were from Maine.

They had these yesterday at my Trader Joe's as well - they were very fresh, but I was told it was the last shipment. I sauteed them in butter with the spring garlic I'd gotten at the local farmers' market, added a little honey, and finished with a squeeze of lime. They made a novel, crunchy green side dish.

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I scored some fresh fiddleheads at Wegmans the weenend before last. I served them steamed, with a "Chesapeake Hollandaise" alongside my crabcakes. They were delicious!

I remember finding them at my local Giant about 10+ years ago--maybe even longer ago than that. I don't even remember how we figured out what to do with them, but we sauteed them in butter with garlic, as I recall. I always buy them when I see them, as long as they're fresh.

I haven't seen ramps at all this year, but I guess I haven't been shopping in the right places.

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I stopped into the Giant around the corner from Two Amy's after dinner tonight, to mollify the parking lot guard who called me 'Mama' and at first said I couldn't park in the lot, then relented when I said I was going to the Giant. I headed toward the store, and he said I could go to Two Amy's first. I figured I'd buy a couple of onions, which I can always use. Imagine my surprise when I found a bin of fresh-looking fiddleheads. No price on the shelf. I bagged up a nice amount and headed for the checkstand. Surprise, surprise, the checker didn't have a clue. I told her what they were. She looked in the produce code guide. Nothing. She asked a fellow checker--he didn't know what they were either. She went and got a clerk from the produce department, and he said he hadn't seen them before. He suggested to her that she charge me as if they were green beans. $2 a pound. I should have gone back for more.

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Much to my surprise, I found fresh fiddleheads at Balducci's today. $10/lb. :lol: Still...I bought half a pound for dinner tonite. My dad used to forage for them when I was a kid but I've never seen them in a store before . Just had to buy some...

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I saw them at TJ's last year but haven't been recently to say they are there for certain this year (the one on Rt 29)

I was at the Foggy Bottom TJ's yesterday, and there weren't any fiddleheads yet. If you get them when they first go on display, they are in good condition. And the price is generally very reasonable. They seem to get them from Canada.

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I only tried fiddleheads once, pickled, bringing home a few jars after a trip to Maine.

Don't remember anything unpleasant; they basically tasted like pickles, but with an unfamiliar range of textures. Nothing inspired me to buy them since.

Now, I am curious. Do they compare to anything?

What do you do with fresh ones?

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I only tried fiddleheads once, pickled, bringing home a few jars after a trip to Maine.

Don't remember anything unpleasant; they basically tasted like pickles, but with an unfamiliar range of textures. Nothing inspired me to buy them since.

Now, I am curious. Do they compare to anything?

What do you do with fresh ones?

Pickled fiddleheads just taste of whatever is in the pickling liquid. We used to forage for them in the Spring in Vermont. The first time I had them, they were steamed and served with hollandaise and tasted like the best asparagus I'd ever eaten. Since then, I have just served them steamed with butter and lemon. I bought some nice-looking fresh Canadian fiddleheads yesterday at Balducci's, though we didn't eat them last night because of my friend's concerns. I might try roasting them in the oven, which is now my preferred way to cook asparagus.

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I just got back from Trader Joe's with a nice-looking pint of fiddleheads for $2.99. I paid about $5 several weeks ago at WF for less than half that amount, and these are smaller and tighter (read: greater quantity for the volume).

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Whole Foods had some (not quite what you asked I know).

I just got a report on my family's cabin in the middle of fiddlehead country, and they got very little snow and the black flies came in late april (as opposed to mid-late may). so the season might be screwed up.

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orzo with ramps and Maine fiddleheads

Where have you found fiddleheads? Or when you say "Maine fiddleheads", did you actually get them in Maine? (That wouldn't be terribly convenient for me at the moment.) I remember finding some at the West End TJ's 2 or 3 years ago, but haven't seen them since, and isn't it kind of late in the season to find them even in Maine?

I remember my first spring in Maine, in 1997, seeing signs for fiddleheads at little markets and roadside stands all over the place. I had never encountered them before, and didn't know what they were. My first guess (when all I had actually seen was the signs) was that they were something like night-crawlers, some creepy thing used as bait by anglers. Turns out I was wrong.

Rick: I came to Casablanca for the waters.

Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.

Rick: I was misinformed.

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I bought them at the co-op market in Damariscotta, Maine, and brought them home in a food cooler. I did see a few roadside stands advertising that they had them for sale. These had probably been picked a week or ten days earlier, judging by how the stems were starting to discolor. They had a very late start to spring this year up there, and the fiddleheads may have been picked further north. I first tasted and gathered them when I lived in Vermont on the early-mid 70's. I remember those as being much more flavorful, probably because very little time elapsed between picking and cooking them.

I was afraid of that. I rather wish I were up there with my dog.

Have they really been seen at the producers-only Dupont Circle market? Do they grow around here?

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Start here and here.

Art and Soul, Blue Duck Tavern, and Café Dupont have them on their websites.

Vidalia is serving them as a side order tonight, with apricots and bacon (despite this not being listed on the menu, I've confirmed it with the chef). Other than Vidalia, I would call first to anywhere you plan on going: The season is coming to a close, so there will be fewer and fewer places that have them; last month they were relatively plentiful.

I was interested in finding fiddleheads as a grocery item, not a dish in a restaurant, although that's interesting too, but moving these posts into the restaurant forum may have been a less than optimal editorial choice.

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The distribution in Virginia on that map is very peculiar.

Maps tend to look odd in areas where collecting is not very commonplace.  Those two counties mark where a botanist has collected, identified, and cataloged the plant through an herbarium.  The ferns probably grow elsewhere, but nobody has made an "official" collection, so it looks like they are rarer than they are.

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I was interested in finding fiddleheads as a grocery item, not a dish in a restaurant, although that's interesting too, but moving these posts into the restaurant forum may have been a less than optimal editorial choice.

[Well, since you're so full of constructive ideas, you sound like the perfect person to help us organize and index this forum.]

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The distribution in Virginia on that map is very peculiar.

Maps tend to look odd in areas where collecting is not very commonplace.  Those two counties mark where a botanist has collected, identified, and cataloged the plant through an herbarium.  The ferns probably grow elsewhere, but nobody has made an "official" collection, so it looks like they are rarer than they are.

From the linked-to website:

"Our county data are based primarily on the literature, herbarium specimens, and confirmed observations. However, not all populations have been documented, so some gaps in the distribution shown above may not be real. Remember that only native and naturalized populations are mapped!"

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From the linked-to website:

"Our county data are based primarily on the literature, herbarium specimens, and confirmed observations. However, not all populations have been documented, so some gaps in the distribution shown above may not be real. Remember that only native and naturalized populations are mapped!"

There really ought to be a better word than "population" (< Latin populus, people) in this context, but I can't think what it might be.

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Just remember that, because of the Polar Vortex we suffered from several times this winter, everything is a couple or so weeks late. I think the PV also killed off the fungus that causes Black Spot on roses and powdery mildew on other things. That, it seems, was the payoff.

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