Fiddleheads: With "Fronds" Like These, Who Needs "Endamames"?

Published on 23 March 2023 at 16:45

It’s spring in Maine and foragers are out in force to harvest a favorite delicacy: fiddleheads. In April and May, if you pass a riverbank and spot someone with a bucket or a tote bag scanning the ground, there is a good chance that person is looking for fiddleheads. Aptly named, fiddleheads are the curled up little fronds of ostrich ferns before they begin to uncoil and mature. These tender little greens have been a springtime staple in Maine for thousands of years. Generational knowledge teaches us that to preserve the tradition into the future, foragers must follow fiddlehead etiquette.


Foraging fiddleheads takes a careful eye and some literal groundwork. Here are the 5 W’s of the harvest:


1.      WHAT: Immature Ostrich Ferns. Requirements include a bucket or bag; long sleeves and pants are recommended – always check for ticks after. Bug spray might be a smart precaution with all the no-see-ums out around here!

2.      WHEN: 4-6 Weeks April-May when high tide goes out. The sweet spot for picking them is once they grow to about 8” tall, but before they begin to uncurl.  You can tell when they’ve gone past because they will develop a “donut hole”, or a small space in the center of the coil, as they begin to open.

3.      HOW: To identify fiddleheads, foragers look for “crowns”. Each crown produces a bunch of fiddleheads. At the picking stage, a thin layer of brown leaf covers the coil. When clipping fiddleheads, it is best to pinch and manually pick them as opposed to using a knife, which can cause damage.

4.      WHERE: Along streams and riverbanks. When foraging, it is always a good idea to get permission from landowners beforehand. People are generally open to allowing people to pick fiddleheads, but if you aren’t sure, it’s best to check. Landowner information can be accessed at a town office if you don’t know who to contact.

5.      WHY: Fiddleheads are a calling card for springtime. They are desirable, not only for their symbolic value as a coveted signal of seasonal change, but because they are just so dang good. They taste sort of like asparagus if I had to compare it, and there are several techniques to preparation. With more and more attention on farm-to-table dining and sustainability, fiddleheads take center stage at local farm stands and some Maine restaurants. They can also be preserved through canning or freezing.




Don’t pick them all! Fiddleheads grow in bunches and the idea is to pick a few and leave about half behind. There are a couple of reasons to do that. For one thing, it ensures there will be some for the next fiddlehead picker, and for another, it allows the plant to mature so there will be future fiddleheads for the picking! While it might be tempting to grab up all the fiddleheads you see, it is common knowledge that to forage sustainably, you are to pick only what is needed.


How to Prepare:


Always wash your harvest. Make sure to rinse well even if you are boiling them. Traditionally, fiddleheads are boiled for about 10-15 mins and served with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Some people add a touch of lemon juice, too. I like my fiddleheads oven roasted with salt and pepper (blanch, then 20 mins at 375), or sauteed with either a piece of bacon or butter and garlic. When I make them that way, I prefer to soak them in a bowl of water instead of just a rinse because there always seems to be some dirt that I miss during rinsing. There are lots of recipes and ways to prepare it. People have also been known to eat them pickled or in a soup!


Fiddleheads are a versatile, vitamin-packed treat. More than that, they signal spring, as they are among the first little goodies that spring up from the earth. They embody the transformation that the changing seasons bring about, and their short season reminds us of how precious and brief time can be. As we consume them, we acknowledge that time is of the essence and in many ways, we become active participants in the renewal of spring. Maybe they provide some metaphorical satiety in that sense. Maybe they're just yummy. There's one way to find out for sure; don't take my word for it! I recommend visiting in April/May when the getting is good, and the Inn at the Agora is located close to markets that carry them, so why not take some home? See you soon!


Simple Recipes: How to Cook Fiddleheads | Easy Fiddleheads Recipe - New England


Where to buy locally: They go fast!! If you are lucky to get them before they sell out, they can be found at the Lewiston Farmers' Market - About the Market (, at Save a Lot Grocery Store (3 min drive from the Inn) or at Blackie's Farm Fresh Produce ( (10 min drive from the Inn)


Events: Maine Fiddlehead Festival to Focus on Farms, Food and Fiddleheads


If you can’t get up to Maine for fiddlehead season, you can have them shipped to you from multiple places including Uncle Deans (they get fresh daily harvests and will ship) Fiddlehead-Season — Uncle Dean's Natural Market ( as well as the Box of Maine company Buy Made in Maine Gifts and Food with Free Shipping | Maine Gifts | Bangor, Maine (

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