fern.jpg    My adoptive family was poor.  As in dirt poor.  I grew up in country settings surrounded by either rich farmland (Maryland) or acre upon acre of undeveloped homestead land (Alaska).  That we were situated in undeveloped regions was a good thing.  Mother Earth is an abundant and generous provider of food, most of which one must simply take or harvest.        

On the Alaskan homestead from early spring through late autumn (which in Alaskan vernacular translates to breakup/thaw to first heavy frosts) these edible gifts are plentiful.  Tightly curled green fiddlehead ferns covered in their papery-brown coverings push their little heads up through the soil and pine needles in early spring.  Their favored areas of birth are in the shade of tall trees in the coolness and protection of a thick forest.  Upon finding these tender and tasty treats, one must simply break off each head close to the earth, careful not to destroy their clump of fiddle siblings.  Harvest only the small ones as the larger they grow, they become fibrous and tough.  Stave off greed.  Do not take all the baby fiddles from one clump, leave some to grow into their full-fledged and furled finery.  After all, they are free and offered up as gifts. 

Taking such gifts from the Earth is a humbling and spiritual experience.  In the sun dappled woods, bent down with my head close to the earth, towered over by longstanding and stalwart trees, in search of this lovely and delectable gem, I am close – very close – to my spirit, Mother Earth’s spirit, and the Universe’s spirit.  This connection thrums through me and back into the soil and up into the sky, making me hum with contentment and enfolding me a safety that I feel nowhere else on this planet.          

My favorite recipe for these little guys is simple with the most time consuming part being the removal of the papery-brown covering as its taste is bitter.  This task is accomplished using a veggie brush or soft cloth.  Then all you do is sauté them lightly in butter and serve them piping hot while they are still a bit crunchy.  A light spray of fresh lemon juice can be added but is totally not required.  I will warn you that this dish is highly addictive and the harvest period extremely limited due to the fern’s nuclear-like growth once the little heads appear above ground.           

If you happen to go fiddlehead scavenging, take me with you.  I am a highly skilled fiddlehead hunter due to my keen sense of smell.  My nose ferrets out the smell of spring before most people but probably not before most other animals.  The earth and its flora and fauna give off spores of spring-iness in scents of musk, damp and rotting leaves and grasses from the previous summer pass gaseous odors, and the cold frozen soil is awakening from the sun’s warmth sending little shout-outs of earthy smells.  My olfactory system catches whiffs of all spring’s wonders.  I was definitely a country girl who grew into a country woman.        

There are more harvesting stories to tell and I will, in time.  For now, the disser is calling…