© 2024 91.9 KVCR

KVCR is a service of the San Bernardino Community College District.

San Bernardino Community College District does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, creed, religion, disability, marital status, veteran status, national origin, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

701 S Mt Vernon Avenue, San Bernardino CA 92410
909-384-4444
Where you learn something new every day.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fiddlehead: This Fern Is For Eating

A fiddlehead fern in Vermont.
Herb Swanson for NPR /
A fiddlehead fern in Vermont.
Ryan O'Malley, chef at Elements Food and Spirit in St. Johnsbury, Vt., walks through a field of ostrich ferns in search of fiddleheads, the furled baby ferns he serves at the restaurant.
Herb Swanson for NPR /
Ryan O'Malley, chef at Elements Food and Spirit in St. Johnsbury, Vt., walks through a field of ostrich ferns in search of fiddleheads, the furled baby ferns he serves at the restaurant.
A dish made of fiddlehead ferns, duck confit and pasta is prepared by O'Malley.
Herb Swanson for NPR /
A dish made of fiddlehead ferns, duck confit and pasta is prepared by O'Malley.

Just after the snow melts, but long before the last frost, hardy New Englanders take to moist meadows and muddy riverbanks in search of an early but fleeting sign of spring: the furled baby fern, or fiddlehead. It looks like the scrolled top of a violin and tastes a little like asparagus.

You can find them now in Vermont. Chef Ryan O'Malley, of Elements Food and Spirit in St. Johnsbury, Vt., heads out on a raw, misty morning to harvest some. He finds a mother lode of fiddleheads in a rugged corner of the state called the "Northeast Kingdom."

"Generally, what happens is [the shoots] grow up in the center of the patch and they mature spreading out, so often you can find concentric rings around the center of the patch that are just now offering up new shoots," O'Malley says.

Fiddlehead pickers often learn from their elders how to spot the varieties that are safe to eat.

Most amateur cooks just wash them well, boil them for about three minutes, splash them with butter and lemon, and serve them up as soon as possible after bringing them home.

In his restaurant kitchen, though, O'Malley adds a few savory ingredients and a couple of additional steps for his mouthwatering recipe.

"Well, it's a fiddlehead and cavatelli dish with duck confit. Nice little full-flavored dish, and when we put it on the menu we call it 'Duck and Fiddle,' " O'Malley says.

He quickly sautes the preserved duck with wild onions, bathes it with a buttery white wine sauce, and tosses in the parboiled, bite-sized pasta and the glistening green fiddleheads.

After a few ambrosial bites, I call it investigative journalism.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.