by Malcolm Jolley
The Canadian Encyclopedia claims that the ostrich fern, a.k.a. fiddleheads, is the only native Canadian plant to achieve “commercial success as a vegetable’. Fiddleheads, along with ramps, morels and asparagus are one of the great Ontario harbingers of spring and are sort of cultivated, in the way that wild blueberries are farmed in the Maritimes. Farmers can encourage them to grow in wetter lands, transplanting some to encourage more to grow.
I have to admit that fiddleheads are not my spring time favourite. I was first introduced to the vegetable as a school boy, when a teacher on a spring field trip explained that they could be eaten. The context was survival in the woods, not gastronomy. It’s not the taste that put me off – the deep green, vegetal (a redundant adjective, imported from the wine writing world but a really apt one, anyway) taste is intense but good. It’s texture that left me cold: the tiny little fronds, rolled up in the “head” go mushy, slimy even, when you steam or saute fiddleheads, as you might another green, like broccolli.
Then, I started to roast the little spiral greenies, with olive oil and some grated Parmesan cheese in a high oven for about five minutes. I season them with a squeeze of fresh Ontario lemon and they keep there crunch plus there’s a bit of caramelisation to sweeten the deal. And righteous locavorism is delivered delicious.