Fiddleheads, hollandaise and adieu

Posted Dec. 24, 2010, at 5:03 p.m.

Editor’s Note: The Best of Bud is a compilation of advice and recipes gathered by the late Ralph W. “Bud” Leavitt who retired as the Bangor Daily News executive sports editor and outdoor editor in the fall of 1988. He continued to write a weekly column until his death on Dec. 20, 1994. During his nearly half-century as the BDN’s outdoor columnist he penned more than 13,000 columns and one book, “Twelve Months in Maine.” These two offerings are the last of that series.

Freezing fiddleheads

Few Mainers do not claim to be the champion fiddlehead eater, myself included!

I’m one who likes them hot, cold, summer and winter.

A fiddlehead is the leaf of an edible fern, found in a good many places in Maine and the Province of New Brunswick. When the new leaves are found in the spring, they are coiled like the upper part of a bass fiddle or a violin, and, in this infant state, are crunchy in texture, sweet in flavor, and delicious.

It is an old fishing axiom that trout and salmon shy away from taking bait until the fiddleheads have bloomed and gone.

Fiddleheads and a fry pan filled to overflow with freshly caught brook trout rates as one of life’s most precious eating experiences.

I am not one who insists that fiddleheads are best when eaten fresh, a conclusion I make because of a winter love affair for a taste of these delicate ferns. A winter meal of fiddlehead greens helps shorten the pull to spring.

The Basil Smiths of Orono have their own special way of preserving the memory of a developing spring. Rae, an extraordinary culinary artist, does the cooking and when we are their dinner guests, the fare usually includes a side dish of Basil’s “frozen fiddleheads.”

Here’s how Basil Smith “puts up” a supply of winter greens:

Blanch cleaned fiddleheads in boiling water for 1½ to 2 minutes. Cool in ice water several minutes. Drain well. Bag in family size (he saves and uses the plastic coverings from bread bags) servings for immediate freezing. Put in a freezer for winter. That’s all there is to it, and for my man-sized appetite, I swear they’re fresh as the day they were picked.

You can do it up in fine style by serving with butter and lemon juice, white cream sauce, or go all the way as I did this last spring and have them cold with hollandaise sauce.

Fiddleheads are considered a gourmet food, I keep hearing, so count yourself lucky to live in Maine where they are free for the taking.

Why buy lettuce from Mexico when you can garner both exercise and free, undeniably fresh vegetables by gathering a few pecks of fiddleheads?

The boss’s hollandaise sauce

The publisher of the Bangor Daily News, Richard K. Warren, a man who enjoys fall upland bird hunting and skiing during the winter months, confesses to occasionally dabbling with the kitchen tools and a few favorite dishes.

He is especially proud of a hollandaise sauce.

Here are the essentials to produce a 1-pint portion of the boss’ hollandaise:

3 egg yolks

3 tablespoons cold water

1 cup melted butter

Juice from half a small lemon

Dash cayenne pepper

Put egg yolks and water in stainless steel bowl or double boiler (not aluminum).

Beat well with a wire whip, then place bowl over simmering water and beat vigorously until mixture is light and fluffy.

Remove from heat and add melted butter gradually, beating constantly.

Add lemon juice, pepper, salt, and keep in a warm (not hot) place until ready to serve.

“Hollandaise must never be mixed too quickly and never be allowed to get too hot. Don’t let the water boil underneath. Make certain to beat vigorously and constantly until thick and shiny,” says Warren.

Around this office, anyway, we never argue with the head man. He swears by his hollandaise and that’s good enough for me.

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