Thursday, May 19, 2011

The first garden-made meal of spring

the trillium grandiflorum and maindenhair fern adiantum pedatum again
No we didn't try to eat the trillium or the maidenhair fern.  I'm not sure, but I vaguely recall that trillium may be poisonous.  I doubt maidenhair fern is, but that's just too pretty to eat.  No- the first all-garden dish of the spring came as a surprise to me.

This is one of the reasons I love my wife.  She still knows how to surprise me.  I came home from work a bit late today, and she'd already been home for a while, so I went outside to play with the kids while she cooked dinner.

I came in for something or other after a little while and she told me to close my eyes- which immediately made me suspicious.  But she insisted, so I did close my eyes, and open my mouth and let her put something- food I hoped- in.  She told me to guess what it was.  What vegetable it was.

It tasted really savory.  I almost thought it was meat at first, because of the really hearty flavor- but it didn't have the texture of meat.  It was delicious- like asparagus with morels - or maybe eggs with good quality soy sauce.  She gave me three guesses and I couldn't get it.

It was fern fiddleheads!  Cooked with garlic greens from the garden, since we're out of store-bought garlic for the moment- and it was delicious!

ferns uncurling in the rain garden

ferns for dinner!
I didn't have the presence of mind to take a photo of the cooked ferns until they were almost gone-and they went fast because, as I just mentioned- they were delicious.  So my photo is not nearly as nice as some other bloggers' photos which look as if they took many hours arranging the food to look its best.  This was a snapshot with my camera which doesn't seem to like doing closeups.  Done shortly before all the food was gone.

I have no idea what the ferns growing in our yard are.  Ususally I'm obsessive about knowing what we're growing and spend hours looking through catalogs picking stuff out.  But ferns are just- ferns- unless they're maidenhair ferns which I have kind of a soft spot for- possibly because they're so hard to grow in captivity- at least for me.

But the ferns we had for dinner- no idea.  We got them from the neighbor two doors down who planted them 20 or 30 years ago and now has a yard full of them.  She encouraged me to take as many as I liked, and I did.  Now they're beginning to take over parts of our yard- which is ok.  They're gentle things- not a true thug like creeping charlie or daylilies.  They're a nice backdrop for the rain garden plants and a filler for all of our shady areas- which we have a lot of.

And now they fill another role- as part of the edible landscape.  I am guessing that they are ostrich fern, or some variant thereof, just given their look and growth habit, but not knowing for sure, we didn't feed them to the kids.  It's one thing for us responsible adults to make ourselves sick, another thing entirely to make the lil' innocents pay for our experimentation.

Gita said that in Nepal, at least in her village in the south, the rich would eat fern fiddleheads in the spring.  Vendors would travel up and down the road past her parents' house hawking ferns.  The poor would eat stinging nettle, which were easily available, at the cost of having to harvest a stinging plant, but would taste very similar, if prepared the same way.  She has eaten both, and will probably be feeding me nettles some time in the next week.

That's something I have already eaten.  During my summer in Scotland as a gardener on the Isle of Gigha, I was told that nettles were a staple of poor Scots during the lean times of the year.  So I tried cooking up a pot of nettle soup from some nettles just outside the door of the cottage I shared with all the other migrant workers.

It was OK, but I didn't (and still don't) know how to spice food as well as Gita does and I was a bit disappointed with nettle soup.  Maybe hers will be better.

Does anyone reading this have experience preparing nettles or fern fiddleheads?  I'd be curious to hear your comments or read recipes.  Please share!


  1. Dude -- just discovered your blog. I'm at -- up past Stillwater.

    Yeah I've been eating the stinging nettles raw -- I love them! Didn't think of eating the fiddlehead ferns -- forgot you could eat them. They're too beautiful. haha.

    So now I'll try them. Thanks for your blog -- I'll be digging it.

  2. Thanks spiraldance- I appreciate the repost on your blog as well! I'm amazed at the community of urban gardeners and wild foragers we have in Minnesota.

    I've never been brave enought to try raw nettles and maybe never will, but I like that you've tried them.

  3. Oh Boy! Fiddlhead is way testier than singing nettles.Just stir fry in medium heat with olive oil, garlic leaf cuts and some cumin powder. Don't' make too crunchy; there u go, delicious vegetable. I grow up eating both fiddlehead and stinging nettles.

  4. I love the blind taste guessing component and your description of the flavors! Sneaky little fiddleheads. I also love the word fiddleheads.

  5. All right, this might be the year I try fiddleheads. Also, I am excited because I bought maidenhair ferns this year. Sounds like they might be picky, so will do a little research to increase my chances of success!

  6. dig- I like the term fiddleheads too. I'm not sure that it's the actual botanical term- esp. given that these are ostrich ferns, not actual fiddlehead ferns. They taste good regardless.

    Jodi- make sure to pick them small! When I was asking Gita which ones to pick yesterday, she said to stick with the small ones- the 3-5 inchers, barely unfurled. She said that if you pick them any bigger they're stringy and tough. Kind of like asparagus I suppose. So- in St.Paul at least- the season will be over soon. Most of our ferns are getting to the pretty well unfurled stage now.

  7. Jeff Z, I just discovered you from your comment on GardenRant, and glad I did. I just subscribed and will be keeping an eye on you.
    I live near the blogger of Grounded Design, another link on your short blogroll. And thanks for the nice words! Susan

  8. thanks Susan! That's high praise coming from someone whose blogs I really enjoy and admire. Garden Rant inspired me to start this blog. I just wanted to read more and more of it-- and thought, "I ought to write the sort of blog that I want to read". So this is it.
    Grounded Design was another inspiration for me and one of my favorite reads. It's nifty to know that you and Thomas are practically neighbors!