Fiddleheads: Take a walk on the wild side


With a particularly long and chilly winter behind us, and snow shovels safely stowed away, you might say we are starving for glimpses of spring and the vibrant flavours that accompany it. Gastronomically spoiled as we are on Vancouver Island, there is still no food season as welcome as spring.

While many local crops are far from harvest, fiddleheads are a wild delicacy available for a brief window signifying the start of B.C.’s bountiful harvest season. Due to the short season and the fact that fiddleheads are only wild harvested, they remain elusive and highly coveted.

Found throughout Canada, fiddleheads can be foraged in southern B.C. but are less common than they are in northern areas like Smithers, where they abound. The fiddlehead as we know it is the unfurled spiral tip of the ostrich fern wild harvested when still tight a couple of inches above the ground (though the fiddlehead of the lady fern is also edible, it is considered less desirable). Note: The mostly widely available fern on Vancouver Island, the sword fern, is not suitable for eating. Local foragers tell us that due to our mild climate, the spiral unfurls very quickly, making the harvesting opportunity extremely brief. Keep your eye to the ground, know your fern varieties, and you may get lucky when hiking in our forests near riverbeds and marshes.

Fiddleheads are ready when they’re ready, and the window is brief, but because foragers frequent different locations each with varying micro-climates, they will have patches of fiddleheads ready for harvest at staggered times allowing for a perceived harvest season of up to three to four weeks from late April to late May. Be in touch with local foragers or find them at specialty markets, but only purchase from reliable sources. Choose fiddleheads with firm, tight coils and bright colour. Gently brush off any remaining brown chaff and wash thoroughly. Fiddleheads cannot be eaten raw; they contain toxins that will cause stomach upset. Boil (eight minutes) in salted water or steam (20 minutes) prior to following recipe instructions. Because they deliver such vibrant green flavour with a subtle nutty finish, simple preparations best complement the fiddlehead. Sauté in butter with a high quality garlic, shallot or perhaps leek, fresh cracked pepper and some Vancouver Island sea salt for a beautiful accompaniment to white fish or substitute in any asparagus recipe; think fiddlehead frittata. If you happen to have an abundance of fiddleheads, they can be easily frozen after blanching for later use or pickled with stunning results.

If you’re looking for a memorable culinary experience this spring, it’s all about the fiddlehead. Champions of nutrition, sustainability and taste, this wild delicacy is a delight we are fortunate to have at our fingertips. Take a walk on the wild side; it’s delicious there.

Does Beautiful Food Taste Better?

Fiddleheads are an edible masterpiece boasting brains, beauty and brawn. Wild harvested, nutrient dense and delicious, what’s not to love?

TASTE: Fiddleheads offer a taste reminiscent of asparagus, but with a distinct nutty, green taste of the wild that you just can’t grow in your garden.

TREND: If you see fiddleheads on a local restaurant menu—order them. They won’t be there long.

SUSTAINABILITY: If foraging for your own fiddleheads, sustainable harvesting is essential. Harvest no more than 10 percent of what each plant has to offer.

SELECTION: Choose tight, bright spirals free of any yellowing from reliable sources.

STORAGE: Store clean and dry in the fridge if you must, but fiddleheads are best consumed as quickly as possible while flavour and nutrient density are at their peak.

PREPARATION: Never consume raw. Once boiled or steam, fiddleheads favour simple preparations that allow their distinct spring flavour to shine.

– By Daisy Orser

Daisy Orser is co-owner of The Root Cellar Village Green Grocer, an award winning locally-focused food market in Victoria BC.

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