Fiddleheading in Aroostook

I’ve been waiting with bated breath for fiddleheads to break dormancy in northern Maine.

Growing up in Minnesota, I felt a similar pulse of excitement each spring as morel season drew closer and closer. Now, however, my head is filled with glorious visions of emerging triumphant from the woods with roughly thirty pounds of fiddleheads to sauté, pickle, and devour.

On Sunday I found my first fiddleheads of the year, and I gleefully scampered to and fro, filling the pouch of my sweatshirt and fulfilling my primal need to forage.

There are many kinds of ferns that grow in Maine, but it is common practice to only pick the most palatable ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). If you are unfamiliar with ostrich fern, there are two easy ways to become more comfortable with identification: familiarize yourself with the fertile frond during the winter (it will persist until spring of the following year), and learn what other fern species’ fiddleheads look like (some are covered in fuzz, some have red stalks, some unfurl shortly after beginning to grow and are very small, etc.).

Online plant databases such as the USDA PLANTS Database and the UWSP Herbarium provide information and photographs on ostrich fern that can aid in identification. But once you know what you’re looking for, and – more importantly – what to avoid, you will recognize ostrich fern as soon as you see them.

Find areas where ostrich fern grows in the summer, return there in the winter to familiarize yourself with the species’ fertile fronds, and return in the early spring to watch the plants begin to grow. Ostrich fern fiddleheads will have golden brown paper-like coverings that will need to be washed off after picking.

Once picked, preparation is up to you. The easy method shown below is both standard, and incredibly delicious.

Sautéed Fiddleheads

You will need:

Fresh ostrich fern fiddleheads
Olive oil
Salt & pepper


Wash fiddleheads well in a colander, making sure to remove any dirt and papery coverings. Drain.

In a sauté pan over low-medium heat, heat 1-2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil for each cup of fiddleheads. Add fiddleheads, and season well with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and flipping occasionally, for ten to fifteen minutes.

Serve, and enjoy the bounty of spring!


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