Fiddleheads: hard to find, but one of nature's gourmet treats

FIDDLEHEAD greens are one of nature's gourmet treats, free to the fortunate person who can find them. Sometimes it's as difficult to find them in a local supermarket as it is in the woods, but when you do buy them, be aware that their season is short and the price high.

Fiddleheads are probably best known in the Canadian Maritimes and Maine, where they are picked commercially.

The Indians introduced them to the early settlers, who must have relished the first greens of the season after a winter of heavier fare.

This early spring green is aptly named because its graceful sprouts resemble the scroll of a violin.

It is generally found along riverbeds, especially in spots where a stream overflows its banks in the spring runoffs.

In preparation you will find many rinsings are needed to remove sand and a brown, papery sheath that clings tighty.

The easiest way to serve them is steamed or boiled. Steam them or boil in a small quantity of salted water for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with butter and vinegar or lemon juice.

They are also nice with cream sauce and various dressings such as vinaigrette , and Hollandaise.

Add some to soup, tossed salad, or casseroles.

I often prepare them to my Greek husband's liking with this avgolemono sauce. Fiddlehead and Ham Casserole 1 1/2 cups chopped cooked ham 3 cups steamed fiddleheads Freshly grated Parmesan cheese Buttered bread crumbs for topping

Gently combine ham, fiddleheads, and white sauce (recipe below).

Place in a buttered casserole dish and top with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake in a 325-degree F. oven for 30 minutes, or until dish is piping hot. Serve with corn bread or corn muffins. White Sauce 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 3 tablespoons flour 2 cups whole milk

Melt butter over low heat. Add flour and stir briskly, eliminating any lumps. Stirring constantly, slowly add milk. Continue stirring until lumps are gone and sauce is smooth and slightly thickened. Avgolemono Sauce 3 eggs 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2/3 cup hot chicken broth

Beat eggs until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in lemon juice. Gradually beat in chicken broth.

Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly just until hot and slightly thickened. Serve with hot fiddlehead greens.

This vinaigrette can be used on a tossed salad that contains fiddleheads or over hot boiled or steamed fiddleheads. Vinaigrette Dressing 1/2 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons vinegar 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in small bowl or jar with tight-fitting lid and shake to mix well. Makes about 3/4 cup. Cheesy Fiddlehead Omelet 1/2 pound fiddleheads 4 tablespoons half-and-half 4 eggs, well beaten 1 tablespoon butter 1/4 cup diced cheese

Cook fiddleheads; set aside. Stir half-and-half into eggs. Melt butter in large skillet over low to medium heat. Pour egg mixture into pan, and sprinkle with cheese. Arrange fiddleheads over top.

When egg is done around the edges, use a spatula to fold one half over the other. Flip omelet over and brown slightly. Serves 2 to 4.

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