hey diddle diddle

Since reading Michael Pollan’s magical chapter on foraging, I’ve been tempted to brave soggy spring forests on the hunt for mushrooms and other edible treasures. So far, this has remained a pipe dream. Good writing can do that to you; when words trump experience, armchair adventure is born.

As good as his prose is I still haven’t got my hands into the dank earth beyond my doorstep. As convincing his argument for the virtue of growing and gathering, I still haven’t turned over a single fallen tree, hoping to catch the flash of creamy mushroom-flesh it might conceal underneath. But on Saturday morning I did vacate the armchair long enough to indulge in some foraging of my own: at the Regional Market.

With bags in hand, my market mate and I set out after so many other Central New Yorkers to see what new bounty Spring had cobbled together. Flowers and herbs spilled out of the covered sheds as sunlight poured into their place. Seedlings boasted bright green sprouts, as if coveting our affection from their plastic beds. All the usual suspects were there, from the bread- to the buffalo-people.

With a pound of PDH Farms ground bison, a dozen of my favourite free-range eggs, and some locally-grown onions jostling for space in my bag, I was ready to be on my merry way.

Until this: “oh look Jen, fiddleheads!”

Adding to its unapologetic whimsy, the word was spoken with such delight and wonder I was drawn immediately to the bag of coiled greens resting at my friend’s fingertips. Though we hadn’t found them growing wildly ourselves, someone had, and we had journeyed past the supermarket to find them. We each procured a meagre ¼ pound for a simple lunch without breaking the bank.

I think I spent more time photographing these alluring young ferns than I did preparing them. It turns out that they flourish in our region, and all the way up to the Canadian Maritimes. The first fruits of the Ostrich Fern, edible fiddleheads turn up only in the Spring – and usually far from grocery store shelves. As I held a tender coil, gently removing the papery brown chaff that still clung to it, I felt as though I was holding a tiny piece of the force of life. Each baby fern breaking through the Spring soil is turned inward on itself to protect it from the still-harsh temperatures. As if accustoming to its new world, they will slowly open, revealing their fluted leaves to the elements in triumph over even the mighty omnivore. But until then, sauteed and sprinkled with some Parmesan Reggiano, they will make for a mighty fine lunch.

*my new dragonfly garden gloves also make an appearance (as background material) in this post

*see Wild Harvest for more information on fiddleheads, as well as cooking and handling tips