Spring into the season with fiddleheads

Margaret Prouse
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It must have been exciting for early Maritimers when they spotted the first fiddleheads in spring — a welcome fresh green after a winter of root vegetables and dried legumes. Although we, in the 21st century, may feel less urgency to go hunting for the first local fresh foods, they are still a treat.

When spring is slow, as it was this year, young plants seem more beautiful than ever when they push through the soil.

Fiddleheads have a particularly beautiful shape. The little curled-up baby fern frond does resemble its namesake, the scroll at the head of the fiddle.  

Every year I intend to search out some fiddleheads myself along the sides of rivers or streams. However, I have not learned to distinguish between edible fiddleheads and other types of ferns.

Instead, I watch for them to appear for sale in grocery stores and markets. They are somewhat pricey because they have to be gathered by hand and because they have a very short season, the small window of time between when they first appear and the fronds uncurl.

The deep green of the fiddlehead signals its rich nutrient value. Canada’s Food Guide recommends we make at least one of our servings of vegetables and fruit a dark green or yellow one every day, in order to meet our needs for vitamin A.

Unlike most vegetables, fiddleheads should not be eaten raw, as they can sometimes make people feel ill.

Wash fresh fiddleheads carefully, removing and discarding the wispy brown skins, and cutting off the darkened ends of the stems. Then cook them well in boiling water before serving.

Cooked fiddleheads can either be seasoned with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar and/or butter or served with a cream or hollandaise sauce.

Adding a bit of crumbled crisp-cooked bacon also enhances the flavour of fiddleheads.

You can also add cooked fiddleheads to a pasta dish such as pasta primavera or to quiche or frittata. Although I haven’t tried it, I have read that cooked fiddleheads, chilled and tossed with French dressing, make a tasty salad.

Anyone who carefully avoids fats from butter and eggs should avert their eyes now. Hollandaise sauce has generous amounts of both, but a little adds a delicious lemony flavour accent, a silky consistency and a pop of brilliant yellow to green fiddleheads.

I like the complementary tastes of lemon and curry powder in the following recipe, sent to me by a reader quite a few years ago.

Save the egg whites and use them to make an omelet or meringues.

I used a double boiler  instead of the assembly described in the recipe.



Hollandaise Sauce

4 egg yolks

22 mL (1 1/2 tbsp) lemon juice

2 mL (½ tsp) curry powder

0.5 mL (1/8 tsp) salt

75 mL (1/3cup) butter


Assemble all ingredients, except butter, in a small bowl. Beat until well-blended. Transfer the bowl to a wire strainer that fits over a few inches of boiling water in a saucepan.

Turn heat to maximum. Drop in butter.

Stir slowly until melted and blended. Serve immediately.

You could add a bit of curry powder to this Cream of Fiddlehead Soup, too, if you enjoy the flavour combination.


Cream of

Fiddlehead Soup

Adapted from Federated

Women’s Institutes of Canada: “Cooking Collections: Canadian feasts from land and sea,”

Centax, Regina, 1988.


175 mL (3/4 cup) chopped green onion

50 mL (1/4 cup) butter

750 mL (3 cups) reduced salt chicken broth

375 mL (1 1/2 cups) cubed potatoes

500 g (1 lb) fresh fiddleheads

1 mL (1/4 tsp) white pepper

400 mL (1 2/3 cups) milk

Chopped chives or croutons (optional)


Sauté the onion in the butter for 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, potatoes, fiddleheads and white pepper.

Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Purée in blender or food processor until smooth.

Stir in milk. Serve hot or cold. If serving hot, return to heat to bring it up to desired serving temperature.

Garnish with chopped chives or croutons, if desired.

Makes 8 servings


For early Canadians, there was no way to extend the short fiddlehead season. We are luckier. If you find yourself with more fiddleheads than you can use fresh, you could freeze some.

To do so, wash them carefully as you would before cooking, and then blanch for 2 minutes in a large pot of boiling water before draining and immediately chilling in ice water. Drain them thoroughly, and pack in freezer bags. Label and keep in the freezer for up to a year.

If you’d like some ideas for summer salads and grilling, please join me at the Cornwall Civic Centre next Wednesday, May 28, 6:30 pm. The Town of Cornwall is hosting this free Go!PEI healthy cooking class. To register, contact Tracey MacLean, tmaclean@cornwallpe.ca or 628-6260, extension 228.


Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at margaret@islandgusto.com.

Organizations: Institutes of Canada, Cornwall Civic Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Cornwall, North Wiltshire

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