Get fresh with fiddleheads

emerging fiddleheads
emerging fiddleheads
fiddlehead frittata
fiddlehead frittata

Move over broccoli, it’s fiddlehead season!

These tightly coiled fronds, wrapped in copper-coloured kerchiefs that glint in the sun, are a sure sign of spring.

Leave them a day or two and they’ll unfurl into an elegant fern any shade garden would love if they weren’t so invasive.

Nick Secord, president of NorCliff Farms Inc., has transplanted more than 300,000 ostrich ferns (Matteuccia Struthiopteris) in the damp woods surrounding his palatial home outside Port Colborne, on Lake Erie.

The farm, fed by artificial ponds, is a showcase for chefs and prospective buyers who come from around the world to see how the wild plants grow and perhaps harvest a few pounds to take home.

It’s a smart business move, since much of Secord’s hand-picked crop is accessible only by canoe and requires crawling through the bush on your knees.

Close to 500 pickers fan out over low-lying areas of the Ottawa Valley, New Brunswick and Quebec, harvesting up to 40,000 pounds (18,000 kg) of dark green fiddleheads on a good day. Their catch is trucked to NorCliff’s modern plant northeast of Montreal to be cleaned, washed and graded.

Harvesting in different areas gives Secord a six-week season for his precious crop, available in supermarkets across North America.

Our late spring has delayed the season, but on a visit last week we could clearly see nubbles of emerald green fern emerging from the stumps of last year’s plants.

Look for fresh fiddleheads in Toronto stores next week.

Nutrition plus

Canada’s fiddlehead expert, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientist Dr. John DeLong, says this wild green vegetable contains omega-3 fatty acids and twice the disease-fighting antioxidants of blueberries.

Fiddleheads are also a good source of dietary fibre and contain iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, says DeLong, based in Kentville, N.S.

Naming rights

Long enjoyed by First Nations people and Maritimers, fiddleheads resemble the curved neck of a violin, or fiddle. They’re also native to parts of B.C., Ontario and Quebec.


I find fiddleheads have a strong spinach taste. Secord likens them to asparagus or broccoli when boiled and to more bitter spinach or rapini when steamed. Others taste a hint of artichoke.

•Serve cooked fiddleheads hot with a drizzle of melted butter or olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

•For brunch, add to a frittata, omelette or quiche, or make delicious soup.  Also great in pesto and dips.

•Try fiddlehead salad with diced tomatoes and a lemon- garlic vinaigrette.

•Power up your smoothie with the fruity recipe from NorCliff’s website.

•To freeze, clean fiddleheads and blanch for 2 minutes in boiling water. Plunge into cold water to stop cooking. Drain and pack in freezer containers or bags, adding water to cover. Freeze for up to 1 year. Cook from frozen.


Health alert
Like morels and other wild foods, fiddleheads should never be eaten raw. Wash them well and cook them properly to prevent possible stomach upset. Health Canada recommends boiling them 15 minutes or steaming 10 to 12 minutes before eating. Secord cooks his 8 to 10 minutes, until tender.

Know your ferns

Don’t be fooled by the many types of ferns. The cinnamon fern, with its pale white or creamy fuzz, could make you sick. DeLong recommends picking ostrich fern tops when they’re tightly-curled and under 10 to 12 cm. (5 to 6 inches) high. Don’t be greedy — pick three heads from each plant so there will be plenty for next year.

Cleaning foraged fiddleheads is a pain. The easiest way to remove the papery husk is to place dry fiddleheads in a sieve or in an apron outdoors and give them a good shake. Pick off the rest by hand and trim the woody stem before washing under cold water. NorCliff uses an elaborate system of fans and sprays to ensure they’re sold ready to cook.

Fiddlehead Frittata
Fiddleheads and eggs are a natural for a spring brunch. Impatient for the start of foraging season, I threw in handful of dried morels from last year, reconstituting them in hot water 30 minutes before sautéing.

1 cup (250 mL) fiddleheads, cleaned and trimmed

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 cup (250 mL) sliced cremini mushrooms or cleaned, halved fresh morels

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp (15 mL) freshly chopped parsley

6 eggs

1/4 to 1/2 cup (60-125 mL) soft goat cheese, crumbled

Bring water to a boil and cook fiddleheads 10 minutes, until tender. Drain.

Heat butter and olive oil in a 10-inch (25 cm.) non-stick skillet on medium heat. Sauté shallots 2 minutes, until limp. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until tender. Add parsley.

Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to high.

Beat eggs in medium bowl. Pour over fiddlehead mixture and cook 2 to 3 minutes — lifting edges gently to let the uncooked egg to flow underneath — until bottom is golden.

Crumble goat cheese on top and transfer pan to oven (cover handle with foil if not ovenproof). Broil just until set and golden on top, 2 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully. Let sit 3 minutes before serving.

Makes 2 servings.


  1. Thanks Cynthia. Did see in the paper on Friday after we chatted. Hope you are enjoying the weekend.

  2. Hi

    someone was asking me on Friday if fiddleheads were out yet – hadn’t seen any.but it has been c o l d..

    Nancy emailed – they are coming June 1st. Haven’t heard from Janet or Lauren.

  3. I happened by this article in the Toronto Star on Friday 3 May 2013. Living in Pickering, just east of Toronto, and spending several hours a day with my dogs in the Duffin’s Creek Valley, I was immediately familiar with these plants. I have an interest in foraging in the area, with asparagus and numerous edible mushrooms in the same Valley., I harvested about 2 kg of the ferns on Saturday, and added them to a stir fry this evening. I am happy to say that not only am I not DEAD, but the fiddleheads were as tasty as advertised by Ms. David. Thanks very much, and I look forward to exploring more of her BLOG in the coming days.

    • Thanks Colin, you’ve made my day! Nick Secord at NorCliff is disgusted with the Health Canada warnings — and cooking fiddleheads for 15 minutes is definitely excessive! — but it is true that some people are quite sensitive to wild things! We’re hoping to get out for morels tomorrow but fear we’re already late! Fiddleheads and wild leeks may have to do. xcy

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