Sweet Fern: Foraged Fiddleheads
I’ve always loved the idea of gathering edible goodies from nature. Foraging for food is as old as humankind, and it’s really only in the last few decades that Western civilization has gotten away from it. The idea of going out into the woods, or even your own backyard and finding something wild to eat has become foreign to us- if it’s not prepackaged and sold at the store, it must not be edible!
Thankfully, foraging is making a comeback, and I am happy to oblige! Especially when it is something so simple and readily available as fiddlehead (or ostrich) ferns. During the Depression, and at almost all times in human history, foraged food from the woods and fields made up a good part of one’s diet. Besides what was grown in a kitchen garden, much fresh produce was found this way. If you didn’t have a real source of income and lived in a rural area, shopping daily or weekly for produce was out of the question.
Most families got by on what they had put up over the winter, but at the approach of spring, green shoots of fiddlehead ferns, wild asparagus, rhubarb and wild onions were no doubt looked upon eagerly.
These fiddleheads are just waking up- not quite ready to pick, but you can recognize them and watch for a couple of days until they look like these:
Just snap them off where they come out of the ground- no knife needed!
Peel the brown papery skin off.
Saute in a little olive oil and garlic. I added a few shoots of wild asparagus as well. (Wild asparagus looks just like domestic asparagus- look for it’s distinctive fern-like foliage later on in the year and mark the location in your memory for next spring!)
As a side note, perhaps you have noticed that I am doing my best to reference Depression-era songs in all the post titles for this blog. “Sweet Fern” was a song sung by the Carter Family (of June Carter Cash fame), recorded in 1929, and available for download here: http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Fern/dp/B0013EVSEE