Fiddleheads: A Spring Favorite
By Vera Longtoe

This article was originally printed in the Abenaki Newsletter,"The Voice of the Turtle"
in 1997.  It has been slightly revised to include locations to purchase Fiddleheads.

For hundreds of years, possibly longer, Wabanaki women have spent cool spring
mornings harvesting fiddleheads.  Today Fiddleheads can still be found growing
along side of streams, river banks and wooded areas in New York, throughout New
England and up to Nova Scotia.  For those of you, who are not familiar with
Fiddleheads, they are the coiled heads of fern fronds.  They are easily gathered
and prepared in a variety of ways, from everyday home cooking to being used as a
gourmet garnish.  However as with any good thing there are always precautions to
beware of.

My father once told me that Fiddleheads pop up at the same time as the dandelions
are budding.   It usually starts in May and ends in June.  They are commonly
harvested by snapping off the head and one or two inches of stem.  Once the coiled
fern leaf opens, it is too late to harvest. Preparation is easy.  Remove the chaf
(brown papery looking covering), cut off any excess stem, rinse thoroughly to
remove any dirt and blanch in boiling water for about 2 minutes.  

Fiddleheads are crunchy and taste something like a mix between spinach and
asparagus.  They taste best when served fresh and  can be eaten: as a hot,
steamed or boiled dish served with butter; as a cold dish, by refrigerating them after
blanching; as a garnish on a garden salad or in a bowl of hominy.  You can
refrigerate them for up to 2 or 3 days.  If you wish to freeze your Fiddleheads blanch
them in boiling water and dry them, before placing them in the freezer.

About ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to take a class on edible Native plants
with Native Edna-botanist and food historian, E Barrie Kavasch.   She strongly
advised eating Fiddleheads in moderation because certain ones have been known
to cause tiaminese poisoning in livestock.  She also cautioned against eating them
raw.  The CDC has even done research into illnesses that were caused by eating
Fiddleheads in Europe.

For those of you, who are unable to harvest your own Fiddleheads and would like to
try them.  They are available fresh at many Hannafords Supermarkets or can be
ordered from Dean & Delucca in New York City.  I have provided links to buy
Fiddleheads in a can or jar, to the left of the page, under the pictures.

Fiddleheads & Rice
Bear Fat (substitutes – butter, oil, beef or pork fat)
1 cup Fiddleheads
1 cup rice
½ cup chopped wild or white onion
½ cup chopped mushrooms
1 chopped clove of garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste
Rinse and blanch the Fiddleheads.  Rinse 1 cup wild rice.  Boil rice with 3 cups of
water.  Let rice simmer for 20-25 minutes.  Fluff with fork and set aside.  Sauté
Fiddleheads, onions, mushrooms and garlic.  Then toss the wild rice and veggies
Makes approximately 4-6 servings.

Honey Vinegar Fiddleheads
3 cups Fiddleheads
½ cup birch sap vinegar or cider vinegar
3 tbs. Honey
Rinse and blanch the Fiddleheads.  Mix Fiddleheads with the vinegar and honey.  
Marinade for about an hour, mixing occasionally.  Refrigerate and serve.  
Makes 4 ½ cups servings.
Canned Fiddleheads available from
Fiddleheads before the harvest - note
the chaf,  brown papery looking
substance that covers the coiled head
Jared Fiddleheads available from
Bowl of Fiddleheads

ELNU Abenaki

© 2006 Elnu Abenaki Tribe