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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is the final Friday morning in May. And as summer nears, MORNING EDITION is getting in touch with what's growing at America's farms, gardens and countryside. Over the next few months, we'll be sampling the incredible variety at farmers markets and roadside stands. And we start with a specialty of New England. That's where people search moist meadows and muddy riverbanks for an early, but fleeting sign of spring. The furled baby fern, or fiddlehead, looks like the scrolled top of a violin and tastes like asparagus. Charlotte Albright followed a chef to one of his foraging spots.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT: A steady rain is falling on this raw, misty morning in the rugged corner of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom. Disappointing news for tourists, maybe, but ideal conditions for harvesting the delicacy they stock on restaurant menus.

Ryan O'Malley is the chef at Elements Restaurant in St. Johnsbury. Now, he is leading me through a wet field away from a highway towards Joe's Brook. This is the mother lode of fiddleheads.

Mr. RYAN O'MALLEY (Chef, Elements Restaurant): And you can find these new shoots. Generally, what happens is they grow up in the center of the patch and then they mature, spreading out, so often you can find concentric rings around the center of the patch that are just now offering up new shoots.

ALBRIGHT: Fiddlehead pickers often learn from their elders how to spot the many varieties that are safe to eat.

Most amateur cooks just wash them well, boil them for about three minutes, splash them with butter and lemon, and serve them up as soon as possible after bringing them home.

(Soundbite of scraping, clanking knives)

ALBRIGHT: In his restaurant kitchen, though, O'Malley adds a few savory ingredients and a couple of more steps for his mouthwatering recipe.

Mr. O'MALLEY: Well, it's a fiddlehead and cavatelli dish with duck confit. It's a nice little full-flavored dish, and when we have it on the menu, we call it the Duck and Fiddle.

ALBRIGHT: He quickly sautes the preserved duck with wild onions, bathes it with a buttery white wine sauce, and tosses in the parboiled, bite-sized pasta and the glistening green fiddleheads.

Mr. O'MALLEY: And I call that lunch.

ALBRIGHT: After a few ambrosial bites, I call it investigative journalism.

For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright in Northeastern Vermont.

INSKEEP: And you can investigate Chef O'Malley's fiddlehead dish in your own kitchen. Find the recipe at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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