Saturday, May 1, 2010


When I first moved to Boston, I had to learn to understand a new language. The milkshake that I grew up with is called a frappe here. A can of pop is called a tonic. And of course there's the famous sentence that highlights the local accent "I pahked my cah in Hahvahd Yahd." But Boston (and New England) also has its own foods. I grew up thinking that clams only came in strips but here they come with bellies. Our "chowdah" has, of course, become world famous. And then we have the lesser known fiddlehead.
Fiddleheads are the unfurled fronds of the ostrich fern. They're only in season for a few short weeks and apparently some people go crazy for them. I've had them several times and I don't dislike them but I don't love them either. I would say I'm indifferent to them.

When I saw them at Whole Foods today, I thought I'd pick some up and try them again. They came with instructions. You're supposed to soak and/or wash them several times. If not washed properly, I guess they can be bitter. And then you boil them in salted water, or steam them, until cooked.

Finally, saute them with olive oil (or butter), garlic and red pepper flakes. I've had them splashed with a little vinegar so I thought I'd try using a little lemon to brighten them up.
And here's the final product.
What do they taste like you ask? Well, it's hard to describe. The flavor is very subtle. Some people say they taste a little like green beans but I think the texture is maybe like a green bean but I don't get a green bean flavor. I get a very subtle asparagus flavor but I'm talking very subtle. I guess the best way to describe the taste is like, well, ferns.
There's no question that fiddleheads are fun. The name is cute and bright green spirals couldn't be more beautiful. While I'm still a little indifferent about the taste of fiddleheads, they're a sure sign of spring!

Have you ever seen them before? And if you've tried them, do you like them?


  1. That's why I love your blog - you always give us such interesting stories and information. I have never heard of these but I "may" be willing to give them a try. If our whole foods has some tomorrow, I'm willing to give them a try. Isn't it interesting what's popular in different parts of the country - every time we go to SC to visit my family, I'm amazed how much they love boiled wet peanuts which just sicken me!

  2. Oh I do LOVE fiddleheads! And yes, we New Englanders do love our clam chowder, bellies n all. Glad you're enjoying this area! I can not imagine living anywhere else.

  3. I had my very first fiddlehead when I lived in Maine. I think I was in my mid-twenties by then. I have to admit that I wasn't terribly excited to eat them as they looked a little like sea creatures. But a native Mainer prepared them for me and they were good. Much tastier than I could have imagined.

    When I moved to Maine to go to college, I was thrilled when the college invited new students to a lobster bake!!! Growing up in Los Angeles, Maine lobster was only something we ordered on special occasions. My excitement turned to anxiety however when I got to the picnic and saw them serving WHOLE lobsters. Our $29.95 Maine lobsters back home showed up on your plate in only tail form - shell removed by waiter. But after eleven years of living in Maine, I became a pro at eating lobster...the New England way. Miss those New England menus!

  4. Oh yes....fiddleheads! I grew up eating these. They were very plentiful in heavily forested Northern Maine where I grew up. Only available in the spring...I remember family friends showing up with bag fulls for my mother to cook up. She would steam them, and then add butter, vinegar, and salt. I don't remember how old I was before I finally learned I had been eating ferns!!

  5. I grew up in Northern RI, which isn't that far from you. We had our own quirky names for food items, and I have no idea how they came about. Our milkshakes were called cabinets, we drank soda, and our hoagies are called grinders. I'm sure there are other examples, these were the first ones I thought of. Go figure!

  6. I was on a little hike in Vermont a couple weeks ago and there were many, many thousands of these little guys - and signs every 10 feet or so, saying "don't pick the fiddleheads. It was tempting! They are very cool looking and I love the name.

  7. the fiddleheads look delish! have not tried one but wonder if we have that here in cali. have a great one! verbena cottage