After our annual clock change, once daylight stretches to about 11 hours, the soil starts to soften in the sunlight, and the seedlings captured underneath start to wriggle to life. Two seasonal sprouts you can find and prepare in long awaited Spring are the Fiddlehead Fern and the Ramp.
Where can New Yorkers forage for the Fiddlehead Fern?
In Yonkers along the Bronx river and also spotted in Buffalo, NY. Look for ostrich ferns emerging in clusters of about three to twelve fiddleheads each on the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks in April and May - look for the tight curl of a French horn. The most common edible fern you will find in New York is known as the Ostrich fiddle. They taste like a mix between asparagus, spinach, and artichoke. While we love to see it sautéed with butter and mushrooms, another way to take advantage of this beautifully unique vegetable is to preserve it. Keep in mind they must be blanched or boiled before cooking to remove the plant's natural toxins and make them safe for eating. You should only boil them for roughly 2 minutes, until you notice a slight flexibility in their structure, to detoxify. Beyond that you risk your fiddles losing their crunch.
Sauteed Fiddlehead Ferns
Blanch the fiddlehead ferns in a pot of boiling, salted water, for about 4-5 minutes.
Then saute the fiddlehead ferns in a skillet with butter, garlic, salt and pepper.
Serve and enjoy alone or as a side!
Crunchy Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns
From Forager Chef Alan Bergo
It’s very important to properly blanch the fiddleheads for at least two minutes in boiling, salted water. Less time in the blanching water can make them turn black after pickling.
Yield: 4 pint jars
3 lbs of the youngest, tightest fiddlehead ferns you can find
1.5 cups vinegar, like apple cider, white, or white wine/champagne vinegar
4.5 cups water
3 Tbsp salt
1 clove of garlic, lightly crushed
1 sprig of thyme, about 1/4 ounce
1 inch peel of lemon zest for each jar
2 gallons (or more) of lightly salted water, for blanching
- Bring the water, salt, lemon zest, garlic and thyme to a boil, then add the vinegar. Allow the mixture to infuse for an hour.
- Bring the 2 gallons of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the fiddlehead ferns to the pot, then cook for 2 minutes, covering the pot to increase the heat, stirring the fiddles occasionally to ensure even blanching.
- Immediately remove the fiddleheads to an ice bath to stop their cooking.
- When the fiddleheads are cool, remove them and drain very well in a colander, pressing on them lightly to remove any excess water. You don’t want them to absorb water and dilute your pickle liquid.
- Pack a pint jar full of fiddleheads, placing a piece of lemon zest in each jar and leaving 1/2 inch of head space at the top of the jar.
- Reheat the pickle liquid to boiling, and pour into the jars, covering all of the fiddleheads, up to the very top of the jar. Screw on the lids and and turn the jars upside down. Leave the jars overnight like this.m
- The next day, inspect the jars, you will find they have formed hermetic seals, just as if you were to use a water bath canner, but without the excess heat. Voila! Crisp pickled fiddleheads.
Where can New Yorkers forage for Ramps?
Hudson Valley! Ramps tend to grow in dense, moist, shady woodland slopes and near a riverbank. Leaves and bulbs of the ramp can be eaten and have the taste of onion and garlic spice. The bulbs are at their smallest in early spring, when the growing leaves absorb the nutrients for rapid growth. A few things to note about ramp politics: ramps are slow-growing plants. If you’re not mindful wth your fun foraging, or not the only one visiting your secret spot, you might be taking more than nature has to offer and completely deplete an otherwise healthy ramp population. A responsible foraging practice is to take only a third of what you find, not just in the location you visit but of each cluster of plants. Replant the rest back in the soil. Find other locations to fill out your basket. Foraging is as susceptible to sustainability issues as any other “farming” activity.
To enjoy the ramp, we love a simple recipe that highlights - instead of tempers - the punch of this little onion cousin.
Place clean and dry ramps on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Grill or cook on a cast iron skillet/griddle on high for about 2 minutes. Turning occassionally until tender and charred on each side.
Serve on a platter with olive oil.
From Hank Shaw, Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (or chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds)
3 tablespoons grated cheese, such as pecorino
2 cups ramp or other wild onion leaves (about 2 dozen)
Salt to taste
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- If you are blanching your onions, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. Set a large bowl of ice water nearby. Plunge the ramp leaves into the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and quickly cool them down in the ice water. Squeeze dry with a tea cloth or paper towels.
- Chop the ramp leaves and set aside. Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, thus the name, which means “pound.” You can of course make this in a food processor, but it will not be the same. To start, add the toasted pine nuts and garlic and crush them.
- Add the cheese and ramps and commence pounding. Mash everything together, stirring with the pestle and mashing well so it is all fairly uniform.
- Start adding olive oil. How much? Depends on how you are using your pesto. If you are making a spread, maybe 1/4 cup. If a pasta sauce, double that. Either way, you add 1 tablespoon at a time, pounding and stirring to incorporate it. When it’s a nice rough paste, taste it and add salt if you need to; sometimes the cheese makes the pesto salty enough by itself. Serve as a spread on bread, as an additive to a minestrone (like this one), as a pasta sauce or as a dollop on fish or poultry.
Note: If you are using a food processor, add everything but the oil and pulse to combine. Then, turn the motor on the processor and drizzle in the olive oil. Be careful not to let the mixture become a smooth paste!
If you don’t want to fuss with your foraged treasures, there are quick ways to enjoy them.
For ramps, first I decide between eating them with breakfast eggs or barbeque. With eggs, I chop the ramps, sautee with olive oil in my egg pan for a few minutes before adding the eggs, salt and pepper. If I am grilling meats, other veggies or fish – I grill the whole ramp (lightly tossed in olive oil, S&P first) and enjoy it charred and whole.
For fiddleheads, the same process applies. First wash them to remove the grit, trim the ends and dry. Sautee with olive oil, salt and pepper for several minutes till they are soft but not overcooked. Their woodland flavor and crunchy bite is unlike any other vegetable. While it’s not for everyone (it really is like eating a plant), it is a flavor I crave in springtime.