My husband and I are very fortunate to live in an area where we can forage one of my favorite foods in the whole world, maritime fiddleheads. Fiddleheads can be a challenge to forage due to a number of factors. The hardest part for me is my mobility issues. This is due to my foot drop and balance, or lack there of at times. Lol. In the locations where this delicacy can typically be found, there is usually a real obstacle course of reeds, bushes, stumps, washed up debris or drift wood and often times very uneven and slippery sandy ground. This being said, I wear good hiking boots that come well up onto my calf muscles to keep my feet and ankles from twisting and they are always laced up tight, right to the top. This year was the first time in fives years, since my heart attack, that I was strong enough and felt able to go out and participate in the harvest.
Another factor that makes fiddlehead foraging a challenge, for me, is the black flies. They and the fiddleheads wake up at the same time! Black flies are hungry little blood sucking insects that absolutely love the taste of, well, Me! As soon as I step outside, it’s like ringing a dinner bell for them. They seem to be thickest in places like the ones we frequent when foraging by the water or in the thick brush. The great thing is their life cycle usually only lasts until the end of June. But, in the meantime, if one is to remain unscathed from the blood sucking wrath of these plentiful little creatures, one must strategize and outsmart them.
The best of the season for fiddlehead foraging, in our area, typically starts around Mother’s day and goes for approximately a month or so. Depending on how much sun and heat we have at that time. My husband and I decided that we would get up earlier than the black flies this year to get a few hours of picking in, in the wee hours of a very cool Friday morning, before they woke. By mid-morning, as they started to appear, looking for breakfast, we had managed to pick almost 30lbs of this delightful delicacy. Which will be very tasty during the long cold and dark months of our New Brunswick winter.
As soon as the sun started to warm the earth, they took flight and their breakfast was found. I think most of it came from my flesh. At that point, it didn’t take us long to pack up our treasures, secure them to our ATV’s and head for safer ground. It is so hard to believe that such a small little creature could wreak such havoc on ones blood supply leaving behind such swollen, nasty and itchy welts. Well at least that’s how it is for me. Lol. They are a force to be reckoned with for sure. I feel bad for some of the wild life at this time of year, but at least they have their tricks to drive and repel the little blood suckers away.
The black flies seem to be unaffected by most bug sprays and repellants. It is not that I like using them but sometimes it is your only defense. If you can find one that works. In addition, they are so small that they can crawl right through the mesh, into my bug jacket. At least I think that’s how they get in there? Smoke seems to be the best deterrent. If one was to build a small “smudge” fire the smoke will drive or keep them away. This can sometimes be difficult to do, however, depending on how dry the spring has been, as burning can sometimes be restricted at this time of year in order to help prevent early season forest fires.
Most of the places where we go to pick fiddleheads can be a challenge to get to. Some of the areas that we frequent can only be accessed on foot or with an ATV. There are a couple of fiddlehead patches that were closely guarded secrets that were passed down to us from our elders. I believe they chose to share this with us because they knew we would respect the land and the bounty it provides. Just pick the fiddleheads and do not disturb anything else. Leave everything just as you found it, they would say. When picking fiddleheads one must be very careful, as there can be many poisonous plants that also grow close by. It can be very unpleasant to get into a patch of poison ivy before you’ve realized it, if you’re not paying attention.
So as you see, fiddlehead foraging can be challenging. Picking the fiddleheads is just part of the equation. There is much to be done before you actually get to enjoy eating them. Once you’ve picked them there is a process to successfully cleaning the brown paper like substance that is entangled in the coil. Because they grow in such sandy areas, usually along river banks or bog like areas, there can be a lot of dirt and bacteria caught up in these tightly wound little greens. Washing them thoroughly is extremely important and one should not eat them raw.
Once the fiddleheads are cleaned and washed you must boil them, until they are tender, before eating them. It usually takes a good twenty minutes to cook them completely. Sometimes depending on how dirty they are, or where you pick them, you may have to change the water at least once before completely finishing the process. I now of some folks who like to preserve them using the canning method which allows them to be stored in the pantry, to be enjoyed at a later date. Personally, I have always blanched them, put them in bags and placed them in the freezer. I find that this method is the best way to preserve the freshness, great taste and the high amount of antioxidants they possess, for my taste. I also like this method because a sandwich bag full makes a perfect portion size for one meal for my husband and I.
In my opinion, along with that of many others I have conversed with on the topic, fiddleheads are a superfood that are an important part of meal planning. They are also a high fiber food, which, for some reason, is now more important to me than it used to be. Lol. I used to crave having a big heaping helping of fiddleheads when I was in the hospital, after my heart attack. I believe my body was trying to tell me I needed the healing properties that they could provide. A big bowl of fiddleheads was one of my very first meal requests, upon arriving home from the hospital. Thankfully we had some blanched and frozen and even though they were out of season, I was able to satisfy my craving.
In foraging them yourself, fiddleheads are a fair amount of work but well worth it, in my opinion. You simply cannot beat the flavor and freshness, especially when they’re topped with some butter and/or a touch of vinegar. My husband likes the vinegar but I prefer just butter and a dash of salt. Doesn’t really sound super heart healthy I know, but with all of the work that goes into getting them to my plate, I think the health benefits outweigh the small amount of topping. My cardiologist always says, anything in moderation…
I hope that if any of you who have never tried fiddleheads and are now inspired, or maybe get the opportunity to do so, you will try them and please let me know if you enjoyed them as much as I do!
Stay healthy 🥰
Love Tanya Jean