Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 12 : Spring 2012 - Page 50

While fiddleheads can range in price from $2 to $5 a pound, depending on who is selling them, Kingsbury tries to keep his prices under $2, a figure the NMCC business graduate says he determined by taking into account his time and costs for picking, and then considering the local market and economy. He keeps his favorite picking spots just as big a secret as his grandfather ever did, but he said there are some easy indications of places where there will be good patches of fiddleheads. Wetlands, or areas that have spring high-water levels, with near the water line, with just a few softwood trees – poplars, firs and the like – and with a thin canopy of branches are the best place to begin looking. The soil in the area should also be rich, and dark, almost black. “You can look for man-made dams, someplace where there are likely to be ducks and water fowl,” he advised. “They leave good fertilizer that washes downstream below the dam, and that’s great for fiddleheads.” It’s also one of the reasons why cleaning fiddleheads and cooking them thoroughly, either by steaming or boiling, is important to kill any contaminants. Such places are often best reached by boat or canoe via the spring-swollen rivers and streams, but other pickers hike in from the road, wearing knee- or thigh-high rubber boots and carrying large five gallon buckets to tote out their treasure. The search itself is also part of the pleasure. “Picking fiddleheads is also the first time you can really get out in the spring,” Kingsbury said. “It’s fun to get out there in a boat, and that’s the best way to get them because you can access both sides of the river.” While all wild ferns to some extent have the same coiled heads, only the ostrich ferns are edible. None of the others are as palatable as fiddleheads, but none, except perhaps brakes or bracken fern, which are proven to be toxic to horses, pose any health problem for humans, but it is still important for anyone considering picking and eating fiddleheads to know what they are doing. Seek the advice of an experienced picker, and take real care to distinguish between fiddleheads and other ferns. The coiled heads, or croziers, of fiddleheads are a bright, rich green with a dark brown husk and a well-defined groove that runs up the entire stem to the tip. The croziers of the ostrich fern can be picked 50 SPRING 2012 as soon as they are an inch or two above the ground, and cleaning is easy. Carefully brush off and remove the papery brown scales that Kingsbury said look like a thin fuzzy moisture on the coiled ferns and are easily wiped off. Thoroughly wash the ferns in clean water several times until the water is clear. Then bring a small amount of lightly salted water to a boil, add washed fiddleheads, and cook them at a steady boil for 10 minutes. Fiddleheads can also be washed clean and steamed for 20 minutes. The ferns are then ready for eating, pickling, or freezing.