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Fiddle-dee-dee

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By Jessica Wong, CBC News

When spring finally comes along, I'm always happy to see local produce turning up in the market. In recent years, the little, alien-looking fiddleheads have attracted my attention — they're even offered in some large grocery stores nowadays — but I'd never tried them. Inspired by a colleague waxing poetic about the springtime treat in her Facebook status last week, I decided to take the plunge.

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Fiddleheads are a springtime delicacy, only available for a short window of time. (Jessica Wong/CBC).

Described in taste and texture as a cross between a green bean, asparagus stalk and broccoli stem, fiddleheads are the edible shoots of the ostrich fern, harvested while still young and unfurled. Though available in different provinces, they're a delicacy I've heard most often associated with Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick in particular.

Part of my reticence to the tiny stalks — don't they look straight out of some fairy-tale book? — came from the whiff of danger surrounding the tender veg: raw, they contain a type of natural toxin that, if the fiddleheads are not cooked adequately, will make eaters quite ill.

After scooping up a half-pound at the market (and receiving few helpful guidelines from the duo of giggling young cashiers), I began scouring the web for recipes. Did I want a fiddlehead stir-fry, fiddleheads tossed with pasta or maybe a fiddlehead omelette? Twittering for suggestions also provided some valuable advice (Thanks to @ahildebrandt and @auntlisa). After a bit of contemplation, I figured simple would be best, at least for my first time. After trimming the stalks a bit, I gave the fiddleheads a five-minute blanch, a quick shock in ice-water and then sautéed them in garlic and butter.

The fiddleheads looked lovely next to the mound of garlic mashed potatoes and slices of rib-eye steak I served alongside. A forkful of delicate, green fiddlehead did taste like a taking a bite of spring as well as being a satisfying reward for expanding my produce horizons. Consider me a fiddlehead convert.

Have you ever tried fiddleheads? How do you like to prepare them? What inspires you to try a new fruit, vegetable or another type of food?

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Comments

SJ

Fiddleheads are one of my 4 year old daughters favourite foods. I use fiddleheads anywhere you would asparagus. I love to include them when I make lemon pasta since the flavours just scream spring. I'll make soup with them or just keep it simple with a lemon butter sauce over top. A few sprinkles of lavendar adds just that extra something to them. Crisped prosciutto also adds a nice flavour.

As for trying new fruits and veg - that's a rule I have for every grocery trip. One new item that we have never had before must be purchased - sometimes its fruit/veg, meat, ethnic sauces or powders, etc. It turns food into a game and suppertime into an adventure. We always try to guess what the food will actually taste like then talk about what we did (or didn't) like about it. Making new food a game while still being just part of the routine certainly minimizes any fussiness I experience with my daughter. Along with fiddleheads her favourite foods include sauteed mussels, edamame, miso soup, shrimp, and; of course, the PB&J. She knows she doesn't have to like everything, but she loves to try it - especially if she picked it out.

Posted May 19, 2009 09:41 AM

Beth

Fiddle-head season, Yeh!
As much fun eating, is harvesting them yourself from the the wild. You are shown, by an "experienced Picker" how to find them, where to look, the ethecs of harvesting from the wild (take only a small portion from each plant, don't destroy/despoil the area, and keep it secret). Give thanks to the plants for providing you with their bounty!
Of course, you do not tresspass on private land, or collect from public parks.
Then, after Fiddle-head season, there are the Morel mushrooms!

Posted May 21, 2009 07:47 PM

Al Wong

Vancouver

The way I like to prepare my fiddleheads is to put them in hot water with salt. When you look at the broiling water, the bubbles should be what we called in Chinese cooking as shrimp eyes. ie. when the water boils first, you see fish eyes which means the size of the bubbles is about the size of eyes of a fish; then when the water is really hot and ready you would see the shrimp eyes, the bubbles would be the size of the eyes of shrimps. This a good way to know when the water is hot enough. When you see shrimp eyes, you put the heads in the water. You never cook fiddleheads in large quantities. Maybe about 10-15 heads at a time. Put the heads in the water for about a minute and use a strainer to pick them up and rinse in cold, cold water, or ice water as you prefer it.

Heat the wok to high, add 1/2 cup of peanut oil, I know, I know, watch the chloresterol. Put about 6 cloves of crushed garlic in the oil, add about 2 oz of sliced ginger and pinches of salt, put the heads in, saute, add a few dashes of sesame oil, 1/4 cup of MaoToi (Chinese everclear), tip the wok to flambe. Check to see if you still have your eye lashes, enjoy.

Posted May 23, 2009 08:28 PM

Jacqui

Kitchener

Being a native NBer...I love fiddleheads and always used to pick them....Something about going into the woods and harvesting dinner makes any thing taste better... and I love mine with butter and vinegar....

Posted May 24, 2009 01:52 PM

Marie

Ottawa

Fiddleheads...! mmmm! I steam or sauté them and serve them with a pat of butter and a few drops of lemon juice. When purchasing them, the spiral should be tight and they should be firm; try to pick the ones without the rust. It's a short season, so enjoy them while they are available!

Posted June 16, 2009 01:54 PM

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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

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Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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