Herb Swanson for NPR
Freshly picked fiddleheads, the furled baby ferns.
Freshly picked fiddleheads, the furled baby ferns. Herb Swanson for NPR
Want to know more about fiddleheads? Here, the basics on stalking, preparation and storage.
What do they taste like? They taste like asparagus.
How can I tell if a fiddlehead is ready to eat? In the field, you can tell the fiddlehead is still young by how tightly it is furled. If the furl is loosening into a fern, it's gone by.
How long will a fiddlehead stay fresh? Chef Ryan O'Malley of Elements Food and Spirit in St. Johnsbury, Vt., likes to use them the day he either stalks them or gets them at a local market. But you can blanch or steam them for less than a minute, lay them on a cookie sheet and freeze them solid. Then you can keep them in a bag in your freezer.
What's a simple way to eat a fiddlehead? Steam or boil the fiddlehead for three minutes, douse them with butter and lemon, and serve as a side dish. (For elaborate preparation, see O'Malley's recipe for Duck and Fiddle.)
How long is fiddlehead season? In northern Vermont, the fiddlehead season lasts about three weeks, and it's coming to an end now.
NOTE: Not all ferns are edible, so stalkers should arm themselves with information or get a knowledgeable partner to go out with. Also, don't be too greedy. Stalkers ask that people take no more than a third of an outcropping so the crop can be sustained