Saturday, May 4, 2013

We’ll soon be foraging!

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. – James A. Garfield 

I can't wait... Fiddleheads and butter poached salmon.

Some time this weekend I’m going to take my first tentative steps into the wilderness. It’s been a long sleepy winter and this old bear has finally roused and gone in search of food.

Photo: Per jensen, Flickr ccl
Oh wait – I’m not a bear... I just growl quite a bit. But I still need food, and the time is soon upon us where we can start to get some free stuff from Mother Nature’s cupboard.

Yesterday my spouse did our first lawn mowing of 2013 at our place. Today I will do the same for my mother, so things are definitely growing. It has begun.

There’s two early spring foods that are available now, or soon will be in Nova Scotia. One is the dastardly dandelion, the other is fiddleheads.

Regarding dandelions, I am of the school that believes if you can’t defeat your enemies you should eat them. Seriously. Dandelion greens are really good. Yes – the ones that grow out of your lawn.

Photo courtesy New Brunswick Tourism
I have often looked at the ones in grocery stores and wondered what the heck they are. They bear slight resemblance to our golden-headed “friend” and I have never bought them. I’m sure they’re someone’s dandelions. but not the common one in Nova Scotia.

When I’m mowing today I will be checking progress.

The other forageable (is that even a word?) soon to break ground will be fiddleheads. The ones you get in the store, if you don’t happen to have a fen nearby, are exactly what grows wild.

They mostly come from New Brunswick, but can be found everywhere in Nova Scotia if you care to look.

Fiddleheads, also known as ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris), grow wild in wet areas of northeast North America in spring. 

The Mi’kmaq and Maliseet natives considered fiddleheads to be medicinal as well as a food. They were an early season staple for them after the long, bleak winter.

When you buy fiddleheads they are bright green. When foraging they are covered in a brown fuzz that has to be removed before eating. I have read the best way to do that is with your fingers under running water. Try your best, and then boil them for 15 minutes with a change of water in the middle. Fiddleheads must be cooked before eating.

There are some concerns about eating fiddleheads. Health Canada and the Centers for Disease Control have investigated food-borne illness associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked fiddleheads. The common symptoms were diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headaches. How pleasant...

They usually occured within 30 minutes to 12 hours after consumption. Symptoms typically lasted less than 24 hours, but it was found that in some cases it stayed around for up to three days.

Photo: oschene, Flickr ccl
Many ferns contain the enzyme thiaminase, that breaks down thiamine. That's highly undesirable. This can lead to beriberi and other vitamin B complex deficiencies if consumed to excess or if your diet is lacking in these vitamins. I’ m assuming that excessive consumption would be a few times a week.

If you haven’t been turned completely off yet, fiddleheads are available in the grocery for only a few weeks in springtime, and are not inexpensive. Pickled and frozen fiddleheads can be found in some gourmet shops (and some groceries) year-round.

Humans have been eating them for millenia. Just use some common sense. Two important tips: don't eat them raw, and don't forage from polluted areas.

Fiddleheads contain various vitamins and minerals, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are a source of antioxidants and dietary fibre. They are low in sodium, but rich in potassium, which may make them suitable for people who need a low-sodium diet.

You have to watch what you pick, though. Many spring ferns are nick-named “fiddleheads” but are NOT the ostrich fern. For example, bracken (Pteridium genus), are carcinogenic. These also grow everywhere but are easily separated from fiddleheads because they grow singly as opposed to in a clump.

For a truly springtime feast, pair fiddleheads with fresh-caught brook trout. I do my best fishing at the grocery store, but the day I made this they didn’t have any trout. When I made this salmon was on sale so I had to make do… poor me.

The following recipe is a stunning way to prepare salmon or many other fish, regardless if you serve with fiddleheads or not.

Butter and wine.
Butter Poached Salmon with Fiddleheads
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 15 min (12 for the salmon)  |  Serves 4
4 salmon portions
2 tsp whole peppercorns
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup salted butter
enough white wine to almost cover the fish
1 lb fresh fiddleheads
sea salt, for finishing

Melt the butter in a saucepan with a wide enough bottom to hold the fish in one layer without much additional room.

Meanwhile, trim the fiddleheads, clean and rinse well and place in salted water. Bring to a boil and let cook for 15 minutes,changing the water halfway through. Then drain. 

Continuing with the salmon, add the peppercorns and onion to the butter and let sauté for about 2 minutes.

Add the salmon, skin side down, and pour in enough wine to come nearly to the top of the fish. (This is why you use a pan that isn’t too big. You use less wine.)

Partially cover and let simmer on medium high for 10 minutes.

Remove the salmon and increase the heat under the pan to high. Let the sauce cook down until almost all of the wine has evaporated.

To serve, divide the fiddleheads onto individual plates. Top with a piece of salmon and drizzle with the reduced sauce, onions and peppercorns. Sprinkle the fish with a little large grained sea salt.


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