Fiddle Dee Dee: Ostrich Fern Harvest

May 8th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) in the Secret Garden

Hoo Wee! It’s fiddlehead season again in Southern Vermont, and don’t you blink or you’ll miss it. Normally just two weeks long, fiddlehead season is particularly short with spring’s late arrival this year. So when I noticed bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and troutlily (Erythronium americanum), beginning to bloom on the forest floor, I rushed right out in the early morning hours with a big harvest basket. Time to visit the damp, woodsy lowlands and forest streams, seeking out the tightest, brightest, green Matteuccia struthiopteris fronds.

It’s Fiddlehead Season! Beautiful in the woodland garden and the dinner plate: Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) 

Matteuccia struthiopteris makes a tall, elegant, ground-covering ornamental in damp shade. Hardy in zones 3-7, it can reach 3-6′ high and its spread, by underground rhizome, can lead to 6-8′ colonies. This is a great plant for naturalizing in a high understory, and for pairing with spring ephemerals; such as Sanguinaria canadensis, Erythronium americanum, Phlox divericata, Tiarella cordifolia, and woodland bulbs of all kinds.

By late spring, Matteuccia struthiopteris makes a lovely, softening backdrop and filler plant toward the back of the border. It’s a great plant for pairing with ephermerals and early-blooming bulbs.

Although I cultivate Ostrich Fern in my secret garden, it also grows wild here in the Vermont woodlands surrounding my studio and home. When I go out foraging for fiddleheads, I look for the deep green, shiny curl of Matteuccia struthiopteris. Often, the fertile, dark brown, spiky fronds —which persist, tough and upright, through the winter months— lead me to the emerald green fiddleheads at the base of each fern. I’m careful to harvest only one or two from each plant.

After Harvest, I Soak Fiddleheads in Cold Water, and Rinse Thoroughly to Remove Sand and Brown, Papery Husks. Once Cleaned, Steam for 7-10 Minutes or Blanch for 10-15. Then, Use in Salads, Stir Fries and Pastas or Bag and Freeze for Later.

Ostrich Fern fiddleheads should not be consumed raw. Instead, after thoroughly cleaned (see instructions above), be sure to steam (7-10 minutes), or blanch (10-15 minutes), fiddleheads to al dente. Once steamed or blanched, these delightful greens may be eaten in a variety of ways. Toss them in a simple soup or salad, sauté in butter as a side dish, add them to favorite pastas and risotto or enjoy them in savory tarts and quiches. Cleaned and sealed in airtight bags, raw fiddleheads will keep fresh several weeks in the fridge. Once steamed or blanched, they may be bagged and frozen for up to 9 months.

Article and Photography copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Well Fiddle-Dee-Dee: Unfurling Spring Pleasures in the Forest at Ferncliff…

April 30th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Fiddlehead ferns unfurling in the Secret Garden – Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica)

Lady fern ‘Lady in Red’ (Athyrium filix feminina), in my garden

Oh yes, we are smack-dab-in-the-middle of fiddlehead season here in the Northeast; one of spring’s most delightful and ephemeral pleasures at my forest home in Vermont. Here on my ledgy site, Ostrich ferns, (a member of the cliff fern family), are abundant; producing large, tightly curled heads as they emerge from the ground in April and early May. Of course fiddleheads are beautiful to behold, and in my garden I enjoy their delicate springtime beauty paired with spring bulbs and emerging perennials such as Lenten rose, (Helleborus x hyrbidus), and native ephemerals including foam flower, (Tiarella), dogtooth violet, (Erythronium), woodland phlox, (Phlox divaricata), bloodroot, (Sanguinaria), and spurge, (Euphorbia). All ferns produce fiddleheads, from which their feathery fronds unfurl, (I dare you to say that 10 times, fast). And some, such as the red-tips of the Lady Fern, (Athyrium filix feminina) ‘Lady in Red’, and the silvery fiddles of Cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamomea), are quite stunning. But there is another reason for my fern-euphoria: this is tasty, tender fiddlehead harvest time!

Collecting Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads at Ferncliff

The Ostrich fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica), and the Cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamomea), are the most commonly harvested fiddleheads in the Northeast, and for good reason. These two large-sized native ferns produce the most delicious fiddleheads in the forest. If you’ve never gathered a fresh meal of fiddleheads from the woods, let me just give you a hint of what you are missing. To me, fiddleheads taste a bit like asparagus, only sweeter and more earthy. Although you can buy this gourmet treat in markets at this time of year, there is really no substitute for the taste of a hand-harvest. Fiddleheads can be eaten raw, (not advisable in great quantity due to possible health risks), but usually they are cooked. One of the easiest ways to prepare them is by cooking in a pot of boiling, salted water until tender, (7 -10 minutes for super fresh fiddleheads and slightly longer if the harvest has been refrigerated for a few days), and then serve them warm with a bit of butter. Although fiddleheads can be added to a variety of dishes, and also be preserved by pickling or freezing, one of my favorite ways to eat them is simply prepared in a Fiddlehead and Feta omelette…

Ferncliff Fiddlehead and Feta Omelette

Ferncliff Fiddlehead and Feta Omelette

Ingredients (makes one omelette)

3    medium sized fresh eggs

2    teaspoons of butter

1    handful of freshly harvested and lightly cooked fiddleheads

1/4 cup of fresh feta cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Whisk three eggs together in a small bowl with a fork, (just enough to combine the yolk and white), add salt and pepper to taste. Melt butter in an 8 inch skillet on low, (do not brown). When the foam subsides, add eggs to the pan, wait a few seconds and slowly pull the egg toward the center of the pan, (this creates a fluffy, evenly cooked omelette). Cook on medium/low, and after about a half a minute, scoot the omelette over to one side and add the feta and fiddleheads. Fold the omelette in half. Cook for another half a minute or so, (pat if you like). Turn off the heat and then place a plate over the pan and flip the omelette over. Serve with a helping of fresh blanched or steamed fiddleheads and a bit of feta crumbled on top. Delicious!

Fiddleheads and Feta: Ingredients for the Perfect Morning Omelette

Mmmmm…

Ostrich fern unfurling at Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Shadow of a Lady Fern © Michaela at TGE

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Words and Pictures copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All Rights Reserved.

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