May typically marks the opportunity to go foraging for fiddleheads.
While the fiddlehead stage of other ferns (such as Ostrich Fern) are more sought after by chefs and also more routinely available at farm markets, the only species that I enjoy is Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum).
Bracken Fern contains ptalquiloside, which has been linked to cancer. That being said, the substance is both highly volatile (i.e., it will dissipate or disappear when subjected to boiling) and it is water soluble (i.e., soaking it in water will diminish its presence). PLEASE: Read more.
If you believe that your preparation will allow you to safely eat this wild edible, I encourage you to learn how to identify Bracken Fern and where they grow. Read more about foraging. Foraging tip: Look for last year’s stalks and inspect the ground for emerging fiddleheads.
The photo below shows the plant after the fiddlehead has completed unfurled and the leaflets have fully developed – never collect the plant when it has reached this stage of growth. I do not collect any plants whose fiddlehead has unfurled so that the 3-branch pattern of the leaflets is already apparent.
I don’t eat this species raw because of its mucilaginous quality. After quickly cooking them (par-boil or steam), this species exhibits a mild asparagus flavor that I savor. Use them as you would asparagus as a vegetable, or prepare them as a creamed soup, or add to baked dishes such as quiche. However, please be aware that cooked Bracken Fern does not remain firm; it will become soft.
Some recipes to consider:
If you decide to collect more than you’ll eat in a single meal, I suggest that you simply wash and cut them to the desired size for however you intend to use them and then freeze for later use.
Here’s to good eats!