Fiddlehead Ferns – Considered a gourmet, wild food found locally from April – July.
I was first introduced to fiddleheads in the 1980’s. A side dish sautéed by my friend Michael Claudio was a delicious accompaniment to one of his many amazing, gourmet meals.
Fiddlehead Nutrition Facts – Low in calories – 34. High in vitamin A (72%) and Vitamin C (44%) (per 100 grams.)
Shop Local. ‘Fresh is Best. Fiber is Filling.’ Though I occasionally had seen fiddleheads at local farm stands and produce stores since I first had them, I had never ventured to cook them myself. This spring I began seeing and enjoying fiddleheads on the menus of some higher end Cape Ann restaurants. Delicious! So when I saw them at a local farm stand (not on Cape Ann and whose name will remain anonymous!) I decided to add them to a meal I was preparing for friends.
Never having prepared fiddleheads, I sought recipes on-line and found a number of recipes that said basically the same thing – Wash. Cut off the brown ends of stems. Boil a couple of minutes. Then sauté in oil with salt and pepper. Some recipes indicated longer boiling, but also mentioned “chefs would be appalled at boiling away the nutrients.”
The group I had over for dinner were adventurous eaters (and adventurous in general.) All had previously prepared and eaten fiddleheads at their own homes. That evening, I chose to serve the fiddleheads ‘al dente.’ The feedback from the group – “Delicious.”
Can Fiddleheads Make You Sick?? The first clue that something was amiss was when shortly after our dinner guests departed, my husband said “I feel like I have a rock in my stomach.” Thinking he had merely eaten to excess, I didn’t think much of it until I also began to experience abdominal distress.
Without going into graphic detail, we both had little sleep that night. The next day I did an internet search – “Can fiddleheads make you sick?” Turns out, YES They CAN, and Did! I called my dinner guests; 5 out of 6 of us experienced GI distress that night. Being a prudent nurse, I notified the Gloucester public health department to see if they were aware of any outbreak of ‘food borne illness related to fiddleheads.’ Symptoms can include – nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and headache. Had the symptoms continued and/or worsened, the pubic health nurse recommended a visit to the doctor. Luckily, the symptoms subsided within 8 – 12 hours. But in the meantime, a day of work was missed and I was appalled I had sickened new friends coming to my house for dinner for the first time.
The farm stand that sold them was notified, so they might pass on what I learned about cooking fiddleheads to consumers – Soak the fiddleheads in cold water. Scrub well. Scrub off any brown fronds. Drain. Soak again and drain. Boil fiddleheads for 7 – 10 minutes before sautéing. Do Not eat raw.
Avoiding Food-Borne Illness – Proper handling and cooking helps reduce your risk of food-borne illness related to the consumption of fiddleheads. Under no conditions should fiddleheads be consumed raw.