Sunday, 5 July 2009

The curious incident of the fiddleheads that arrived frozen in a bag

The other day one of our regulars, a French Canadian who had just returned from a holiday in Quebec, came to the counter and propositioned me with a bag of fiddleheads.

Qu'est que c’est?

Fiddleheads or tĂȘtes de violon: the unfurled heads of Ostrich ferns which grow in the forests of Quebec and the Maritime Provinces.

These strange looking edible fronds are not cultivated so are only available for a short time in early spring when they are picked over a period of two weeks after which time they unfurl and become inedible. Foragers must only take three of the five to nine fronds produced by each plant as harvesting more than three can kill the plant.

I surmised that fiddleheads are a highly prized delicacy and I felt honoured to be offered a small bag of them which had been bought at an organic food market in Quebec, blanched, then vacuum sealed and frozen before being flown back to London and delivered into my novice hands.

After researching how to cook fiddleheads, noting nervously that cooking them incorrectly can result in food poisoning, I put the frozen bag into boiling water for about 7 minutes then sauteed them in butter and finished them with a squeeze of lemon juice.

The verdict? They tasted like a cross between asparagus and spinach and were much more palatable than the real fiddle I tortured my neighbours with for years.