Each spring, not long after the snow melts depending on where you live, they start emerging. You can find them on the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks throughout the northeastern United States. Depending on where you live, they can start emerging in mid-April, May, and early June.
They are usually available for about three weeks and where I live, the pickin usually starts during the second or third week of April. Just before the bugs are a problem in the woods. The fronds of the Fiddle head push their way up through the forest floor, uncurling slowly. It's at this moment, just before they uncurl that it’s time to harvest them.
Ostrich fern Fiddle heads are about an inch in diameter, they can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the fern stem.
To prep the Fiddle heads, any leftover “silk” should be removed. The silk is a thin, brown, papery covering that resembles a peanut casing. The best way I have found to do this is place a couple dozen at a time in a brown paper bag and shake them vigorously. Next step is to rub the remaining brown casing off with your fingers in a bath of cold ice water. If needed, drain the water and then rinse them again in a bowl of cold water, gently agitating them with your fingers and pouring off the water until it is free of particles. Drain well and pat dry.
It is recommended that you cook them for at least 10 and up to 15 minutes before you eat them. Fiddle head ferns contain a toxin that causes stomach pain in humans when ingested. The toxin is destroyed by the heat generated during the cooking process.
These springtime delicacies have a taste reminiscent of asparagus. If you cook the Fiddle head like an asparagus, you really can’t go wrong. Their flavor is mild, they are pleasantly crunchy. They can be cooked in many different ways, from steamed, to boiled, or dipped in beer batter and fried. I like them sauteed with some garlic and lemon juice in olive oil and butter, lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper. There are many recipes to be found on the internet so when you pick a bunch of them, just give them a good wash and they will freeze very well.