There is quiet teeming life close to the ground which almost remained a lost secret. I had been otherwise engaged, bounding towards the sky eating bales of arugula and kale, filling a sudden burgeoning appetite for tender spicy greens. Summer is here in a hustle and every day, all of life pops, springs and bounds. My vision, my experience is located about two feet and up, and is expansive and soft- the result of hot slow sun penetrating fractals of leaves.
So I can be excused for momentarily forgetting fiddleheads, those odd froggy curls of emerald. I neglected those majestic Paleozoic ammonites, living breathing fossils crowning their unearthly heads through dense stream side moss mat. My eyes were busy surveying the trees and bushes aflame with swaying movement. I have been lost in the damp pink furl of azalea blossoms, drunk on lilacs, out of my mind.
Just as simple, the arrival of plucked and bagged fern fronds brought me down and in. In my hand these handsome unicursal whorls are alphabet from another world. To decode these glyphs, I start with a sniff that brings scent and sense from earth under. Crawling on all fours, shimmying over root and rot brings small understanding to this ancient plant. Muck, decaying leaves, the sweet acrid smell of dampness, and the cush of moss draw intimate tucked-in environment for the emerging tender scrolls of the venerable stately Ostrich fern.
For short moment in time, just a sigh in Matteuccia struthiopteris’s life cycle and somewhere ‘tween April and May, tight coils of green poke through the fecund soil as gift from another realm. These one inch spirals are potent symbolic and nutritive DNA. They are coveted jewels to foragers, cooks and curious eaters alike. Similar to the charged moment when an archer draws back his arrow with increasing measured purpose, fiddleheads contain pure potentiality- the entire spectrum of spiral’s curl, unfurl and release. And you can imagine it. Early in the season these croziers are wound up tight, shiny and verdant green. As the days move on the captured curls loosen and laze out, even get a bit flabby upon an elongated woody stem. However, free in their natural habitat, the ferns become leggy adolescents before striking a dramatic pose in full formed glory.
The consumption of these beautiful gems is a greatly anticipated late spring time ritual and treat in New England. Beyond being visually stunning, the fiddlehead’s labyrinthine form is deeply embedded in nature’s playground and reminder of secrets which may always remain so. Potent, playful and wild they encourage me to wrangle around in the mud and express exuberant behavior. Delicate and asparagus-like, crisp and “of wood and stream”, unique yet archetypal; there is no good excuse not to fiddle around with Fiddleheads.
Weekend Fiddle Part I approx. 3 servings: I was looking for a simple way to showcase these sprouts. Asparagus made an obvious partner. I happen to keep slices of bacon on hand in my freezer which makes it easy to saw off chunks as needed. The fat from the bacon seemed like perfect seasoning to compliment fiddle’s wildness. Butter, salt and pepper? Of course.
1 ½ C fiddleheads, ends trimmed and papery chaff removed
1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1 ½” pieces
1 clove of garlic, minced
A few chunks of bacon
A pat of butter
Coarse Sea Salt and Black Pepper
Chopped chives with or without blossoms
Directions: Get a heavy pan, medium hot and ready. Throw the bacon in and when it gets browned and crisp, introduce the garlic. Add the fiddleheads and asparagus and sauté until medium crisp. I covered mine with a lid, and gave things a good stir every now and then. Add a bit of water to steam sauté if things are getting too dry. When the vegetables are done to your liking, stir in some butter and add a few grinds of salt and pepper. Cook an egg over easy separately. Place veggies in a shallow bowl and slide egg on top, garnish with chives.
Leftovers were thrown into a simple frittata to make Weekend Fiddle Part II. This frittata/omelet looked like a fossil with the fiddlehead spirals captured in egg, but it tasted simply delightful and fresh, as well as being pleasing to look at.