My dog Martha and I headed out in the alfalfa fields behind our house to stretch our six legs on a glorious, if windy, Spring afternoon last week, and while we were puddle-hopping off into the forest line (it is the height of Mud Season, that fifth part of the year packed in between the six months of Winter and three weeks of Spring that we get in the Northeast) I spied some lovely coiled ferns getting ready to unfurl. I picked a generous handful to bring back to the Crispy Kitchen dreaming of steaming them up for an elegant pasta topper.
When I got home and perused my home library, I found I was once again foiled in my efforts to snag a free meal from the great outdoors. Last year, my trusty Nettle hunting hound and I gathered stinging nettles much too late in the season to make them palatable and it seems my impromptu fiddling with ferns needed further research as well.
I assumed fiddlehead ferns were a variety of fern, when in fact there are several edible ferns which one can harvest, some of which cause FOOD POISONING. Plus, you are supposed to scout out your fiddlehead patch the summer before when you can correctly identify the fern species from their height, leaf patterns and seeds.
Reading of my copy of Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop by the late Forager King Euell Gibbons stated that the bracken fern was edible and delicious raw or cooked. I thought I probably had collected the tips of the bracken fern, the most common fern in our area, which Euell said were covered with a "rusty, cottony felt" when then emerged in the Spring. They certainly were sweatered up and it took a laborious and incomplete removal of their fuzzy bits by rubbing them with my fingers. After reading here that ingesting raw bracken ferns are linked to stomach cancer (I'll have to research what Euell died from) I decided to nibble on cooked fiddlheads only.
I got a small pot of lightly salted water going on the stove and boiled them up until they were tender, hoping the remnant fuzz would fall off, which it didn't. I then scarfed up two ferny bits and found them unbearably bitter and hairy, so into the compost bucket they went.
All was not lost however, when I went back out into the sunshine to root out some young dandelion greens (you gotta get 'em before they flower or they are too milky and bitter) from my garden beds and lawn. Many, many cold water rinses and hand pickings later, I had 2 cups of springy, tangy greens to saute up with some garlic and oil and toss with last night's leftover rice for a Spring Tonic lunch for the hubby and I. And it was a delicious success!
Here's my easy recipe for a Somewhat Free Lunch:
Spring Tonic Dandelions and Rice
2 cups fresh, young dandelion greens, washed and picked over carefully
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups cold cooked rice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. cider vinegar
Heat oil in frying pan. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, or until golden. Add dandelions and cook down, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add cider vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss in cooked rice and stir until heated through, adding a splash more of olive oil if needed.
Makes 2 hearty and supremely satisfying servings.
I am submitting this post to the Grow Your Own event started by Andrea's Recipes and which is being hosted this month by House of Annie. This fun event rounds up posts about foods grown, foraged, fished, and hunted up by great cooks around the world, so be sure to check back after May 1st at House of Annie to see an always-interesting roundup.