Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

What an incredible treat to have a neighbor show up at the kitchen door with a bag of fiddleheads! This time of year, the dark green tightly curled, emerging stem of the ostrich fern cut off at ground level makes for a great vegetable addition to a spring meal. Ronnie generously shared quite a few fiddleheads at homes out here, having filled several buckets worth someplace on the mainland next to a fast running stream in which he rinsed them to remove the papery exterior.

This island doesn’t have a great deal of good fiddlehead habitat — they like damp places with freshwater streams or rivers nearby and we have precious few year round brooks out here. Fortunately a few islanders like gathering in favorite — and secret — locations on the mainland, and so we get a mess from time to time.

If you have never hunted fiddleheads for yourself, it is worth learning how to identify them. One characteristic is the stem which looks U-shaped when you cut it crosswise, another is the smooth stem and coil, no furriness at all but a papery husk, which you have to remove by shaking them when dry and then rinsing well.

If you aren’t a fiddlehead hunter, you can acquire some this time of year for sale in our grocery stores, farmers markets and out of the backs of trucks alongside the road. Just keep your eyes peeled.

A rule of thumb when preparing is to cook them for about 10 minutes and never to eat them raw. You won’t be poisoned exactly if you don’t cook them, but you’ll visit the loo a little more than you’d probably prefer.

I’ve pickled them like dilly beans, sautéed them and had them with pasta. I have strewn them into salads and stir-fried them with asparagus. They can be blanched and frozen for use later. They’d probably make a good risotto. Someone around this house said, “How about soup?” And of course, there were dozens of directions for fiddlehead soup on the internet, and I read one from New Brunswick carefully enough to get the general idea for a recipe of my own, below, for you to use.

Actually, this recipe will work for any general cream-of-some-kind-of-vegetable soup. I’ll use it for asparagus soup sometime in the next few weeks, as you could, too. Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, shredded Brussels sprouts, all are candidates for this soup. If the weather ever warms up, you could serve this as a cold or room temperature soup, too. Make it as smooth or chunky as you like.

Keep some of the fiddleheads whole and steam them to use as garnish.

I am looking for … more fiddlehead recipes. If you have a way of fixing them that you think other readers would also enjoy, would you share?

Cream of Fiddlehead Soup
Serves 4-6

–2 tablespoons butter

–1 tablespoon olive oil

–1 medium onion, chopped

–2 cloves garlic, minced

–1 large carrot, chopped

–1 rib of celery, chopped

–2 cups diced potatoes, about 2 medium potatoes

–4 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth

–2 cups very coarsely chopped fiddleheads and stems

–½ cup heavy cream, optional

–Additional fiddleheads, steamed, for garnish, optional

–In a heavy pot, melt the butter and olive oil over a medium heat and add the onion.

–Cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

–Add the carrot, celery, and potatoes and cook, covered, for about 5 minutes, then add the stock and simmer all together until the vegetables are quite tender.

–Mash with a potato masher or puree to desired thickness with a stick, or immersion, blender or in a food processor.

–Add the fiddleheads, bring the soup back to a boil, stirring enough to keep the soup from sticking, then reduce the temperature and cook for another 10 minutes. Alternatively, steam the fiddleheads for 10 minutes separately and add them to the pureed soup.

–Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

–Stir in heavy cream, if used, just before serving.

–Add steamed fiddleheads, if desired, for garnish

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...