FIDDLEHEADING: A Maine Tradition

FIDDLEHEADING: A Maine Tradition


Fiddleheading is a long-standing Maine tradition.  It’s an annual adventure to trek to your local river-flats to pick the ferns before they unfurl in the Spring.  Locals prize their picking-spots like a secret family recipe;
I could tell you where I go, but then I’d have to kill you.

Those who have never heard of Fiddleheads look at you as though you might be from another planet.

“You–eat ferns?


Fiddleheads are the tightly coiled tip of a fern, which is picked early in the season, just as the plants are emerging from the damp soils of a river-bed or wet, low-lying area.  Don’t worry, the plant is affected little by the harvesting of the fiddlehead.  Fern leaves will sprout and unfurl, and the plant will come back year after year.  And so does the Mainer.

I’ve been travelling to the same river-flats since I was a little girl.  I came with my mother, what seems like a life-time ago now.  I’ve come with my husband.  Now I come with my kids.  Down the narrow, winding path through the forest to the gorge that the Carrabassett River has carved out of the land.  It’s a steep drop from the forested hillside to the wet river-bed, so before this I came without kids, since I wasn’t keen on carrying them and X-number of pounds of fiddleheads back up out of there.

As you can see, the trees are only just beginning to leaf-out.  It is the greening of Spring.  It was a beautiful morning to be outdoors and in the forests.  Birds called in the tree-tops as I crouched at the sandy, musty soil picking the fiddlehead.  My old dog startled a small flock of wild Mallard ducks, and enjoyed a bath in the icy river-water that runs down from the mountains.  The kids settled in, soaking up the sensual feeling of the outdoors and nature.

 We eat our fiddleheads steamed, with butter and a little vinegar, as you would other greens, such as spinach or beet greens or chard.  These ones we had with a fine cut of steak from Kniffin’s, which I broiled.  It was a very satisfactory meal.

My oldest son scarfed his right down, however, my two nephews who are from out of state, were trying fiddleheads for the first time, and thought they left a little to be desired.

But just look how beautifully green they look popping up out of the ground!  What pride they fill me with, to think back on such a cultural tradition, such family memories, and such Earthly bounty.

Fiddleheads are a spring blessing to be truly thankful for, in more ways than one.

For more information about which ferns are edible, and how to cook them, check these resources:  Fiddlehead Ferns: Springtime Edible Treats; How to Identify Fiddlehead Ferns.


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