Fiddleheads are the edible, barely, tender shoots of ferns in spring. Though almost any fern produces the distinctive fiddlehead shaped curled shoots, the Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris is the most commonly eaten. They are indigenous to New England, Maine particularly, were they have been consumed for centuries. You have to be careful though, as there are many ferns that can be confused for the Ostrich fern, for example the Bracken Fern and the Royal Fern which are known to cause cancer in a relatively short period of exposure (2 to 5 years).

Fiddlehead ferns are a true expression of Yankee sensibilities. It takes a particular hardiness, stinginess and stoicism to elevate the tightly curled proto-fronds to food. A true Yankee is unwilling to waste anything and it would have been completely out of character for them not to find a use for the ferns that grow in such profusion in the dark dank of the northeastern forests. Fiddleheads are available for a very short period of time and do not keep well but even so they are beginning to make their way to upscale markets around the US. The taste of fiddleheads has been compared to asparagus, they are usually eaten in a garlic sautee.

Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns with Parsley and Garlic
  • 1-pound Fiddleheads
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced very fine
  • 1/4 cup butter or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim any brown ends off of the fern shoots and wash them in cold water, pulling the paper-like brown skin off as you go. Drain and pat dry. Crush the minced garlic with the back of a spoon or the side of a large knife. Heat half of the butter (or olive oil) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fern shoots and turn the heat up to medium-high. The ferns should sizzle, but don't allow the butter to burn. Toss and stir for about 5 minutes. Add the butter (or oil), the garlic, and the parsley. Continue cooking for one minute longer, or until you can smell the garlic and the ferns are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Culinary Cafe,, 7/7/2004