Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fiddleheads: New England's Okra

Whenever I see footage of Barbara Stanwyck I am reminded of my grandmother. In her early days the similarity between Barbara and my grandmother is uncanny. Unfortunately, I don't have a young photograph of my grandmother, but I 've seen 35 millimeter film in which my grandmother is being tricked by her girl scouts. The pack placed a whoopie cushion on her chair, and there is my her capris and button up sweater, falling for the joke.

One of the things my grandmother loved to do was fiddlehead hunt. I myself have never done such thing but I know it is a New England delicacy and more than likely served in every gourmet restaurant during the month of May. See, there is a two week span of time when the fiddlehead harvest happens, no time is set as it depends on the amount of rain and adequate temperature for the fiddles to make their appearance. Then a flurry of North American foragers descend on all of our woods.

I understand there is only one fern that qualifies as a fiddlehead and that is the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), it is aptly named because the fronds resemble an ostrich tail. They are fairly easy to identify as young sprouts....having grooves in the stem similar to celery, smooth not furry, and surrounded by a brown papery material that shouldn't stick to the stem. This is referred to as chaff.

When one harvests ANYTHING from NATURE, the rule of thumb is to not take more than what can be replenished. In this case, every other frond is acceptable. Timing is critical as the fiddlehead should not have more than a two inch stem when cut. Fiddleheads are named such because of the uncurling fern resembling a scroll head top of a fiddle.

I have put together a idea of how to cook these greens. Best thing to do is to start by soaking them in salted water for a few hours, this will rid them of bugs and insects. The next step is to parboil them, changing water twice, this removes the bitterness the fiddleheads tend to have. Do not overcook, soggy fiddleheads are not what you are looking for, desirable flavor comes with the veggie being crunchy. The final cooking is to saute them in butter with garlic, cook in stirfry, or simply marinate in vinegar oil. Either way the fiddles are commonly served with a vegetable and taste like a cross between asparagus and broccoli, or to some, okra and peas. Fiddles are a good source of vitamin A and C.

This picture is of a recent walk that prompted me to think about my grandmother, if you look close, Tartarus's nose is pointing to some fiddles on a island. This picture is of our brook that borders our back property line, there are more ferns in a little spot lower in the water. Tatarus did make it to the island on this day although no one knows how. Tatarus is such a gentle dog and can't go far from where I'm located.

I want to include a picture of the recent bloom in my yard.....painted trillium. I look forward to this every year because it means our spring might have a little Jack Frost left, spring being the key word.

This post is for my grandmother who I can picture sitting down at the table with a plate of fiddleheads atop of a pile of corn. Enjoying eating in her Barbarba Stanwyck, stoical, independent way, and for my grandfather who I know sat at the table with..... steak and potatoes.

with love and the garden....


  1. Hmmmm...I wonder if we can find fiddleheads in the south? I have never before eaten them and am game for trying just about anything once.

  2. Forgot to say, Nana definitely favors Barbara Stanwyck.

  3. WOW!! WOW!! WOW!! I NEVER would have compared my mother to Barbara Stanwyck, but you are so right!!!! OMG!!! Can't get over it. In fact I thought someone besides one of my girls had done the post today and scrolled down to see who did it. When I got to the pic of Nana and Baba it really caught me off guard and made me cry. Nana has been gone over 20 years and Baba over 10 years and I still miss them so much. They truly were amazing people and I am so gratefull for having such great parents and what a great post Dawn, a great tribute to a great lady. Nana would be so proud. She sure did love the fiddleheads and would get so excited when they were out. They grow everywhere. I see them on the sides of the road all the time and always think of Nana. I only remember her just boiling them and putting butter on them, but then again, she loved her butter and put it on everything.

    Yup, LOL, Baba would just have his meat a taters and bread!!! Don't forget the bread, as he ALWAYS had bread with his meals. He would eat some cuke, fresh out of the garden once in a while!!

    However, I would never compare fiddleheads to okra. I had never had okra till I lived in GA and I love it and buy it still. Not too many people eat it here in the north and I tell tehm they don't know what they are missing.
    It also is one thing we can not get year round in the north and when you can get it, half the time it has gone by.

  4. BTW Dawn, that pic was taken right around fiddlehead time in 1983. David and I had flown down to Tina's in North Carolina (to help drive the 5th wheel back to Maine) and Nana and Baba drove up from Florida and "your sister" made Nana, Baba, David and I go have that pic taken, along with the one of Tina, David and I that is in my living room. Tina made the app. , made us go and paid for it. As much as I hated to have my pic taken, I was not a happy camper, but you do things for your kids that you do not like. Nana was worse than me about having her pic taken. Now I say, THANK YOU TINA!!!!

  5. Mom, I somehow knew you was going to get weepy. I enjoyed doing this post for the both of them and I can truely think of her eating them.
    I forgot the bread, Nana musta hauled to prepare different foods as I know she liked her greens.
    I found the comparsion to okra in the info on the net. This post waited awhile because I saw college kids selling fiddles out of their car and wanted a pic of them but only saw it once.
    Neat huh? Makes me look at ferns twice.
    PS. It is a nice pic of them and I'm glad I have it, had to scan it with the glass because over time the pic has sweated. Now its on the net!

  6. Dawn, what a lovely tribute to you Grandparents. I was very fortunate that both sets of mine lived until I was a young woman. I have very fond memories!

    I had never heard of fiddleheads until just recently. My Sister and I were walking through the yard and my fern bed was just beginning to come up. She told me that on one of their vacations to the New England states and Canada a restaurant they ate at served some mixed with a vegetable and I can't remember which one she said. She said they were good. I was just telling my husband about your post and he told me they used to go to the mountains in Boise, Id and gather them, he even told me how to prepare and cook them!!

    Tried to work a little outside, but it is too hot, came in and enjoying a glass of "sweet" tea.

  7. Dawn, yup, it is on the net!! Can you believe it? I bet Nana had never even known about the net. If she did, she probably thought it was some funny fluke that would not last. Too funny.

    Nina, was so glad to see you on here last night as I had been asking Tina if she had heard from you. Hope all is well. How is your baby sister doing? Has she seen the Dr's in Nashville yet?

  8. Really lovely post and I can see how much it meant to your momma! She did raise some good women!

    I have read about fiddleheads before and want to give them a try...another reason to visit Maine!


  9. BTY Dawn and Tina, I meant to say that I have some pics of both Nana and Baba of their younger years. Baba as a 3 year old and his graduation pic. I have some of Nana at late teens and early to late 20's. Also have her pic that was on her naturalization papers. I was about 8 when she got naturalized so she would have been around 36. I will have to get some copies made for all you girls.

  10. Thanks Gail but I think when any parent is lucky enough to have raise 4 girls and they all turn out to be well adjusted, happy adults, we have to say "thank you God" for letting me be so blessed.

    We have a very big house so come to Maine ANYTIME!!!! We love to be able to put people up. Would be too late for fiddleheads this year but lobsters will be around!!

  11. Hi Guys,
    We have been out in the back yard today, Jack of all trades decided....anotherrr rock wall. I'm sO glad he helps! We'll have to finish it tom., only got it half done. Looks nice.
    Nina, so glad to hear from you, like my mother I was beginning to worry. I'm glad you and your sister could talk about fiddles and wha la! My post, and I'm even happier that your hubby knows about them. Since I did this....I'm thinking I might try them, too late now but maybe next year. Kinda would just like to see what all the hub bub is about.
    Hi gail, I kinda thought my mother would enjoy this, I'd hope she wouldn't get to upset and emotional, but even in my heart I knew she would cry. After all, her mom and dad!
    Mom, I'd love some copies of pic of nana and baba, also the 35 milimeter, that might be hard to do thou since we've gone from 35 to vhs to cd! And OMG nana would not believe it!

  12. Beautiful tribute to your grandparents. I wish I had taken the time to get to know mine better. I was such an ungrateful granddaughter. I wish I had paid closer attention to the stories they told too. It really makes me sad that I lost out on so much.

  13. Hi Cinj, sometimes it seems like my grandparents were taken to quick, esp my grandmother. Both of them did alot in their lives and I know if they were around today....I'd have a different attitude towards their experiences, unlike a person in her 20's. I can remember many christmas times and many travel times to their house, for that I'm grateful.

  14. Dawn, even though I shed some tears a few times, it also made my heart feel warm. Tonight I can look at it and smile without any tears. Funny as I have the same pic in my living room but don't get weepy but oh boy that did really wack me this morning but am soooo glad you did it!!!!!

  15. Whoops...forgot...Anonymous, go check this site

  16. Whoops! While I'm at it, its okay Mom, your allowed.

  17. L-o-n-g day for me! Not even enough energy to even talk about it but it involves sunburn and getting up at 4 am! I'll post about it later but was I ever so glad Dawn that you posted today and that Skeeter has it tomorrow! Where is Lola and Anonymous? Hey all! And good night!

  18. I think the comparison of okra and fiddleheads is a good one. They are both green and maybe the same texture? I am not sure as I have never had fiddleheads-and don't care for okra.

  19. Dawn, I really enjoyed your post. It brought memories back for me. Sadly I didn't have the privilege of knowing my grandmother but I do have some of my grandfather. But as far as my father's side I never knew any of them at all. So I feel I missed out on a lot.
    I've never had fiddle heads but would be willing to try them. I like okra--fried.
    Those pics of the ferns growing in rock walls look a lot like the rock wall behind mobile in N.C. They grew like crazy--would cover the whole wall--so pretty.
    I really like the pic of the creek. Looks like a place in mtns.
    NOW, I know who Tina favors. To me she looks a lot like her grandmother.

    Tina, Have you seen Joe lately? Do you know how he is doing?

    Sure hope Skeeter is having a good time. Hope she has a safe trip.

    Nina So glad to hear from you. Was beginning to worry. Prayers for you & sister.

    Jean it's good to get weepy sometimes. It just means that you loved that person deeply & you miss them. Where did your mom come from?

    Hope all had a great day & will have a restful night.

  20. Hi Lola, just getting ready for bed, nikki just fell out of hers! She's never done that! Anyway, I wanted to let you know that the rock wall is the one I constructed. These ferns love the cracks and.....can't grow a pink bleeding heart in my soil but it seems to have found a perfect spot in the wall about 10 inches down from the top. Has been blooming (early) and will go all summer. Go figure, decided a while back that I'd let it have residence.

  21. Hi Dawn, What in the world made Nikki fall out of bed? Is she alright? The wall looks great. The one I had in N.C. had to be rebuilt. Yep, you guessed it, I did with a little help from #2 son--him not very old. None the less I got it done & it looked pretty good. The drive way was actually higher up than the wall. The wall actually held dirt back or it would have been against the skirting of mobile--then the drive way would have caved in. It was a very private place. We even had a church on the property. As long as it functioned as a church it had use of 1/2 acre but if it stopped then that property came back to owner. A bit confusing but it worked.

  22. I don't know what made her fall out of bed, brother has company and their rooms are next to one another. She was still asleep and acted sheepish, silly. Knocked her vanity stand over, heck of a crash.
    My wall has to be repaired, it holds my leach field and has my rosees in frount of it, can't wait til I get my hands on it.

  23. Hi Lola, I am hoping to take Joe some flowers this week. Each time I am over that way (it is a long ways from me and out of the way) it never works out for me to visit. I know Ursula has been by though. We are still hoping he gets a window bed like Nina's father did finally. That church on the property sounds kind of cool-except on Sunday when all the people come and have to park. Good neighbors though I would think.

    Dawn, Kids sometimes fall out of bed. Be careful! It can be disasterous if the fall is from a bunk bed. That wall is nice and I always loved it. Can't wait to see your garden completed.

  24. Lola, fried with white corn meal is how I also eat okra and I do love it.

    My mother was a Blue Nose (Canadian). We lived on a border city Calais, which was the most eastern city in America. The most eastern point is Eastport and it is now a city so also the most eastern city. Calais lost one of it's claim to fame. LOL. The spot in the world that is half way between the north pole and the equator is also between Easport and Calais. My mother was brought up in Canada and her mother was brought up in Calais, her father was brought up in Canada. My father's mother was brought up in Calais and his father in Canada. That is the way it is in a border place. I was born in America so I am an American. However my brother was born in Canada before my mother became an American so he had duel citzenship and had to declare American citzenship when he went in the American Army. Another bit of history... Champlain and DeMont settled on St. Croix Island
    (which is owned by Calais) in 1604
    and spent the winter there and was the first white settlement north of FL. Calais was named for Calais, France. The first time I went to Europe we were in Paris and headed for England and there was a shorter way to go but we went the way that went thru Calais. Had to do it. Once in a lifetime chance. Neat, huh?!!!
    THANKS TINA!!!!!

  25. Mom, I definitely learned something. Baba showed me the marker when I was a kid. You are welcomed for going to Calais. I can't forget you taking pictures of every single sign which said "Calais". Still have the pics?

  26. me too, I didn't know my ggrandfather was from canada.

  27. Thanks Jean. I have a friend that was in Canada when she had her son so therefore he was Canadian & also had to get citizenship for American so he could join the service. Real neat about the history. I love it.
    Some people like okra & tomatoes but I sure don't. Fried is the way to go. Although my mother fried it in an iron skillet. Didn't have deep fryers back then. Hmmmm I can almost taste mom's okra now. Nothing like mom's cooking.

  28. Tina forgot to mention the church was small--about 26 members. I really enjoyed going there. My late husband played Santa one yr. They said he was the best Santa they ever had. I have a pic of him in suit. HE was very good with people--made them laugh, relax & feel good. He just had a knack about him.

  29. You bet I still have all the pics. I had kept a journal and numbered all my film and when I got home I got the films developed
    and put them in albums and typed up the pages of my journal to go with all the pics and put them in album with the pics. I have 3 full albums. When Sandra came back from Italy last month she looked at the albums I had of that trip. All the little books and postcards are also with the albums. They are great keepsakes.
    That trip we were there nearly 3 weeks so it was a trip of a life time and will always be treasured memories. Even if I did'nt even wanna go and got conned into by you. LOL. The next time I went I did'nt need to be conned...I WAS READY!!!! Germany is still my favorite. It is a gorgeous country.

    Yup there is a stone marker and a little rest area on the spot of half way to equator and north pole. Was there when I was a kid.

    Dawn, Baba was not from Canada, his father was.

    Oh Lola, I always fry it in a pan but, thanks to you, I will now fry it in a deep fryer. I bet it is even better that way and I did'nt think it could get better.
    Never thought of that. Duh, duh, duh. Thanks!!

  30. I know ggrandfather was for great-grandfather, it occurred to me thou you wouldn't know which one I was talking about. I knew Nana was from Canada but didn't know that about Babas. How come he did not have to become a citizen? Born in the state and Nana was not? I know very little about his family. Just about siblings.

  31. Frying in a deep fryer each piece is separate--like popping pop corn into your mouth---only 10 times better. Nothing like it.

    Thinking seriously about taking stepdau up on offer. So far plans are to go the 8th & come back when ever. Said she may kidnap me for longer. We'll see how I do.

  32. Hi Dawn -very moving --I have always loved my grandparents --the grandpas passed on way before the grandmas but I loved going to there houses --great snacks:) And, even better stories to listen to -we were brought up being seen and not heard but it was worth it getting to sit and listen to the adults talk --learned a great deal about my own mom, hahaha She was a little wildwoman back in the day --sledding off banks with old car pieces --sneaking out the window to go visit her sister who was married --all the good stuff. Thanks for sharing such a great part of your life.
    Hi Jean --you've got some awesome daughters with such a great way with words --:)

  33. Right Dawn, Baba was born in Calais with an American mother so he was an American. Baba's father died whe Baba was 4 and he did'nt have a lot of family and they were from away in Canada so none of us knew much about his family.

    Sounds like fun Lola!!

  34. Cool Anonymous!!! Us Maniers are way out of the loop to be able to meet all the different folks we now consider friends. :(

    Thanks and I agree that they are very awesome!!!

  35. Thank-you Skeeter. Sometimes I think they get too long, definately couldn't do it everyday or once a week. Filling in is fine with me.

  36. I'm glad you posted links to these older posts, Tina. I don't remember if I had started reading your blog at this time last year. Anyway, I will enjoy these posts I've missed while you're on break. Your sister Dawn seems to be the memory keeper of the family. What a lovely tribute to your grandparents! The fiddlehead harvest reminds me of morel mushroom hunting in southern Illinois, something I've participated in before and enjoyed the fruits of on more than one occasion.