Reciplease! Fiddleheads and the foraging post

Merely typing the words “dandelion greens” last week made me realize that I absolutely had to write a post on foraging.

What’s more local than a locavore, you might ask? A hyperlocavore.

A hyperlocavore who is also a forager is someone who comes running up through your yard (hopefully, it’s someone you know) to hand you a leaf or root and insist you brush the dirt off and eat it right this second because you just have to taste it.

A foraging hyperlocavore is someone you trust not to poison you.

I live with one.

He’s gotten me to taste a few foods I might not have otherwise tried, and now I’m recommending them to you, with the disclaimer that you don’t go out and eat yard salad until you or someone you trust can properly identify what’s safe and what isn’t.

If you want to learn more about foraging, I’d suggest checking out Horn Farm Center’s monthly Foraging Innovation class. The next one is 10 a.m. to noon May 19 at the farm, 4945 Horn Road, York.

I chose this photo so the greens would be easier to see, but hopefully your dinner salad isn’t growing from concrete! Photo by Flickr user golbenge.

Now, about those dandelion greens.

This might be the one exception to the disclaimer above because everyone knows what dandelions look like. And the greens growing around them? You can eat those. They’re bitter, but as mentioned last week, you can blanch them to soften the flavor, or use them sparingly and paired with sweeter, milder greens.

Dandelions are also purported to have a slew of medicinal qualities, especially for women. Dandelions have diuretic and detoxifying qualities and are great sources of vitamins and minerals. Many people enjoy these qualities by drinking dandelion tea, made from the root.

Dandelions are easy to find, but if you really get into foraging, look for small bodies of water to see if you can find wild watercress.

Delicious watercress is already taking over one of the ponds on our property. Photo by Jonathan Moore.

Watercress is an aquatic plant that has been in the news in recent years for its anti-cancer effects. It has a tangy flavor, not as peppery as arugula, but close. It’s refreshing and grows abundantly in our region.

And in my backyard. We found it growing wild on a hike one day, brought back a small cutting, placed it in one of our ponds, and now … well, just look at it go.

You know what dandelions and watercress look like, but have you ever seen a fiddlehead?

More importantly, have you ever eaten one?

Beautiful, yummy fiddleheads. See the brown papery stuff? Photo by Flickr user Tom Giebel.

Fiddleheads are the new fronds of ostrich ferns. They are so named because before they unfurl their ferny-ness to the world (or get picked for dinner), they’re curled up like the end of a fiddle. Their flavor is not unlike asparagus, and they’re chewy when cooked.

Another disclaimer, before I reciplease you: Do not consume fiddleheads raw. Eating raw fiddleheads can make you ill. Fortunately, there are several ways to cook them, all of which are delicious.

First, you can saute them in olive oil and salt. I know, I know — what can’t you saute in olive oil and salt? If vegetables weren’t so totally delicious, I might be bored with it, too. But this method of cooking, besides being one of the fastest and simplest, is also one that highlights each vegetable’s unique flavor. Plus, it’s easy to fork a test bite so you don’t overcook or oversalt.

You can also steam fiddleheads until they’re tender but not soggy, about 10 minutes.

I say you fry them in butter and serve them over pasta with a creamy sauce and a side salad of foraged greens.

You just dug dinner out of your backyard. Treat yourself.

Preparation tip: Submerge your picked fiddleheads in a bowl of water to loosen the brown papery stuff that looks, but does NOT taste, like peanut casings. It comes off fairly easily, so remove all of it.

Safety tip: Steam them first — it won’t hurt the final product, and wouldn’t you rather not get food poisoning? Ten minutes ought to do it, then dry them well.

Quick-fried fiddleheads with creamy lemon pasta and yard salad (cream sauce adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s asparagus, goat cheese and lemon pasta)

These fiddleheads are pan-fried to perfection — see all that garlic? Photo by Flickr user Renee S. Suen.

  •  As many fiddleheads as you can forage or buy, steamed, then fried in butter and minced garlic until browning (set aside to top pasta)
  • A pound of prepared pasta, your favorite (I like cavatappi for this one)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (extra for dressing salad)
  • 5 oz of creamy goat cheese (log, not pre-crumbled)
  • 1 Tbsp finely grated lemon peel
  • Lemon juice to taste (extra for dressing salad)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Salad greens, foraged or purchased, rinsed well

Combine olive oil, goat cheese and lemon peel in a large bowl using a rubber spatula. Mix well. Add hot pasta and stir gently. Plate the pasta, top with fiddleheads and serve alongside greens dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper (more of each can be added to pasta).

You can parcel out your foraged items over several meals, but one of the reasons these items are hard to find in stores is their short shelf life, so use them quickly. As with all produce, if it smells funny, toss it and live to forage another day.

Resources: If you want to learn more about foraging but can’t make it to Horn Farm’s class, start with a book that’s been recommended to me, “Edible Wild Plants of Pennsylvania and Neighboring States.” Additionally, has an extensive list of sites and reading material on the topic, and lists 100 reasons to eat only what’s grown close to home. Your best resource, though, is your local farmer. Next time you visit your favorite market, don’t be afraid to ask.

Also visit Stephanie Reighart’s Adventure Girl blog and click on the Eat It! York County link to find information about dozens of local plants that are edible — and usually in your backyard!

Stacia M. Fleegal

York Daily Record multiplatform journalist. Degrees in creative writing from Lycoming College and Spalding University, and a coupla books with my name on them. Central PA native who came home after floating around for a while, but always grounded by words and the places and people I remember.

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2 Responses

  1. May 9, 2013

    […] down veggies with heavy sauces. Even when I recommend a cream sauce to you, as in last week’s fiddleheads post, the sauce will be as light as possible, and usually dressing a base for the vegetables, […]

  2. May 23, 2013

    […] series, Reciplease!, offers many yummy recipes using local food. Also, Stacia offers tips on foraging, which would be a great weekend […]

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