By Shawn Russell, Staff Writer
As the grass becomes greener during the first weeks of May, fiddleheads will begin to pop-up around the banks of streams and rivers throughout the state. Fiddleheads, also known as fiddlehead greens, are tops of young ferns that are still curled-up tightly and are low to the ground. Left on the plant, fiddleheads eventually unravel into tall ferns after a few weeks of growth. Fiddleheads are frequently harvested as a vegetable during the few weeks of the season that they are available. A festival celebrating the fronds occurred last week known as The Maine Fiddlehead Festival, hosted by the University of Maine at Farmington’s Sustainable Campus Coalition (SCC) and organized by a committee that includes community members, the UMaine Cooperative Extension, UMF faculty and students.
“The best part about fiddleheads is that it is one of many great examples of wild, delicious, healthy food that you can find around you in nature,” said Sam Spahr, a senior chemistry major. Spahr enjoys picking fiddleheads during spring, as well as other edible plants and mushrooms that can be found in the wild. He explains that there are a variety of ways to enjoy fiddleheads. “I like to pickle them, but sautéing them in butter and salt or putting them in a salad is good too.”
“Best place to go in Farmington is the bank of the Sandy downstream from the trestle,” said Julian Stearns, a previous UMF student who is taking some time off from UMF. Stearns plans on coming back to Farmington during the first weekend in May to harvest pounds of the young ferns. “I love eating them at any size, but the smaller ones are a little less woody and more tender,” said Stearns.
On behalf of fiddleheads growing close to the water, those who wish to harvest fiddleheads should wear proper gear when picking. “Wear pants to avoid potential risk of ticks, and decent footwear in case there is mud or water nearby,” said Spahr. Most rivers and streams throughout the area are flowing much faster than they do during the summer, so it advised to be cautious when walking the banks of the fast moving water.
When picking fiddleheads, it’s also important to be sure that what is getting picked are actually fiddleheads. “There is a lookalike species which is covered in a white colored mesh type substance. These are a different type of fern that you don’t want to eat,” said Spahr. Fiddleheads are bright green, raveled up tightly, and do not have any type of film or mesh substance encasing them.
For those who would like to try eating fiddleheads but do not necessarily want to pick them, they can be purchased during their short season at Mosher’s Seafood and Meat in Farmington, as well as at vendors that are set-up along the sides of Route 2 in the area. In order to remove any sand or dirt on the fiddleheads, it is important to thoroughly clean them before cooking and to boil them for at least 15 minutes.