Fiddleheads In The Woods

Fiddlehead ferns are unfurling in the woods near Duluth now. Aptly named, they look like the heads of bass fiddles. They unfurl rapidly, changing day to day. I think they’re among the coolest looking forms of new growth in the woods. We saw the fiddleheads above near a trail just off Seven Bridges Road in east Duluth on Sunday.

Some people eat the fiddleheads of ostrich ferns. According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service Web site, you should harvest the little rolls of fern almost as soon as they appear, within an inch or two of the ground. Here’s the rest of the Web site’s advice:

"Carefully brush out and remove the brown scales. Wash and cook the heads in a small amount of lightly salted boiling water for 10 minutes, or steam for 20 minutes. Serve at once with melted butter. The quicker they are eaten, the more delicate their flavor. They may be served, like asparagus, on toast. Cooked, chilled fiddleheads can be also served as a salad with an onion and vinegar dressing."

The Web site also includes this cautionary note: "The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness associated with fiddleheads. The implicated ferns were eaten either raw or lightly cooked (sauteed, parboiled or microwaved), which was what caused a food-borne illness outbreak in British Columbia in 1990. Although a toxin has not been identified in the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern, the findings of this investigation suggest that you should cook fiddleheads thoroughly before eating (boil them for at least 10 minutes)."