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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


10 responses

  1. vonlipi

    Hello there! I love the idea of foraging. I’m wondering how can you be sure these are ostrich ferns? I have some in my yard I would like to eat but I’m unsure. Love the look of your new blog 🙂

    May 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    • As far as I know, they are the only ferns that look like little violin necks before they unfurl. If I get a chance, I’ll take a picture of them after they are fully grown, so you have something to compare it to.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm

  2. I would never have thought that fern was edible. Is the taste similar to asparagus?

    May 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    • It’s more bitter and savory than asparagus, but not real bitter like some other wild greens. It’s hard to describe- a little does go a long way, though. This portion was enough for me to eat at two meals. (Not surprisingly, I was the only one in my family to partake 😉

      May 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm

  3. Everyone is talking about these lately, it seems. Must try!

    May 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm

  4. My wife still doesn’t understand why they are not sold in grocery stores here in Indiana. She’s a Canadian Maritimer (Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI), where they are sold every spring by the bag full. She too, sautés them in olive oil w/ garlic. She will also steam them, and then add them to a pasta w/ cheese. I myself am not too fond of fiddle heads. My spring time obsession would be dandelions but you have to harvest the leaves before the flowers begin to bud, otherwise they turn very bitter. They are great for making wilted lettuce or added to potato salad.

    May 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    • The taste is definitely not as sweet as asparagus- I was really glad I had added some of that- but it’s not bitter, either. I don’t know how to describe it- maybe “fresh”? I have always wanted to try dandelion greens again- I had picked some years ago that were too bitter to eat, like you said- but I am so leery of herbicides with those. I need to find a nice wild supply!

      May 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm

  5. I used to make springtime fiddleheads and freshly caught trout. Your post put a good memory in my head. Thanks.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm

  6. Jon

    Fiddleheads are a mainstay food here in the Alaska Bush as well as wild onions, potatoes, chives, mushrooms and many other wild vegatables and berries.

    May 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm

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