What's Fresh, Toronto? Fiddleheads!
Right now there is a song in my heart because Ontario fiddleheads have arrived. Fiddleheads ferns are the unfurling fronds of a young fern plant. Harvested at this young age, they're edible and delicious.
Many fern varieties are eaten around the world. In North America the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is the variety of choice. Traditionally in Canada, fiddleheads were a spring staple of Maritime cuisine. But demand has really unfurled across the country, and now fiddleheads can be found just about anywhere.
In Toronto, you should start seeing them at most farmers' markets in the city and this past weekend I grabbed a bunch in my hood at the St. Lawrence Market. Food lovers on Chow give a breakdown on where they've spotted them too.
Fiddleheads are generally a wild and foraged springtime delicacy, however there are some farmers attempting to cultivate them. Responsible harvesting means that only 2-3 fronds are taken from each plant, and they are generally found growing in deciduous forests or alongside waterways.
While fiddleheads have a flavour all their own, the taste is most often compared to a combination of asparagus, broccoli and green beans. And these little green gems are packed with vitamins A & C, protein and antioxidants. When storing them in the fridge at home, keep them in water and change it every few days - they should last about a month.
After several cases of illness were reported from eating raw fiddleheads in the early nineties, Health Canada suggests they be steamed (for 10-15 minutes) or boiled (for 8-10 minutes) before eating. After that, the choice is yours. I use them along with chopped ramps and other diced veggies in a quinoa salad with apple cider vinaigrette. Or they are great sauteed with butter and eaten as a side. If you want them around all year, fiddleheads take very well to pickling too.
The fiddlehead season is very short, there is only about a two-week period before the fronds become too mature to eat. So get out there and get some before their song is up!
As the growing season continues, I'll be keeping track of what is becoming available each step of the way, and will share my findings in this here farm fresh feature "What's Fresh, Toronto?" Stay tuned for future installments.
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