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The Last Fiddleheads in Town

fiddleheadsAh, the Boston-area food quest! The slightly unusual, the ethnic, the seasonal…each and all fall into the you-have-to-know-where-and-when-to-look class.

This is just more of the hazing and initiation that comes from living in a charmingly provincial town.

Let it be known that I bought the last fiddleheads of the season here. Travel to far northern New England or Canada if you want. You won't find any in Boston or Cambridge.

The last half pound ($4.50 worth) fiddleheads was next to some fresh herbs at the Harvest Co-op in Central Square, 581 Mass Ave. Ha!

I ha a hearty ha because I have learned that luck or hound-like determination provide the best results. I used my cycling time to career from grocery to natural-foods emporia when I realized Stop & Shop, Shaws and Roche Brothers stores I frequent were not laying in fiddleheads this year.

At a church dinner a week ago, I even asked the large table whether they had run across any. One woman had, about two weeks ago at a Whole Foods. And I was off.

I cycled to several Whole Foods, as well as groceries I saw on the way. The veggy manager at the one at Walnut and Beacon in Newton further riled me by 1) not having any, and 2) laughing before saying, “Oh, they've been gone for over a week.”

I continued with greater drive. Yesterday, cycling to lunch in Central Square, I stopped by the Whole Foods on River Street. I had intentionally left early enough to check out both the Harvest than then the little Whole Foods on Prospect.

Mirabile dictu! I took every last green coil from Harvest. At $8.99, it seemed a bargain. Chlorophyll at its tastiest was mine.

Sorry. Plan for next year.

What are they and what do you do with them, you ask?

Just in case you have never had fiddleheads and maybe don't know them, I'll share. Also, because I have mine this year, I'm set.

The still coiled baby fronds to be of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are delicious to humans as the mature fronds are to some butterfly larvae. Many ferns are just plain nasty, but these are a very short-seasoned delight.

The Rush of Danger: Many sites with fiddleheads recipes, like this one and this one , warn that an unidentified toxin in some undercooked fiddleheads have caused gastric distress. I have eaten the lightly boiled and tossed with lemon juice, salt and butter or oil to no ill effect. However, I now buy into the toxin idea and won't eat them until they cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

As with any green, rinse them, chop off any touch or brown stem ends and cook ‘em up.While some make a cream soup with them, I find they are too easily overpowered by strong flavors. Cream can smother their flavor and strong herbs and spices can disguise the “green” taste.I went a little more elaborate than I usually do this season. I created a lightly sauced side dish, let's call Fiddlehead Not-Quite Soup . It was along the line of:

½ pound of fiddleheads, washed and trimmed

1½ tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced

½ cup chicken broth

1 cup of milk

pinch of salt

scant dash of white pepper

  1. Sauté the onion in the butter until translucent.
  2. Add the fiddleheads and the chicken broth. Then simmer uncovered stirring regularly for 12 or more minutes. The fiddlehead stems should be fork tender.
  3. Add the milk, stirring occasionally as it reduces, until moist but not soupy.
  4. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Serve warm. This makes a good first course so it does not compete with other dishes.

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