Fiddlehead Ferns a May Day Delight!

You have to prepare them correctly or you’ll never eat them a second time. But it is easy, and one of the treasurers of our Northern woodlands.

May Day. A perfect day! 60 degrees, blue sky, a gentle breeze, and everything is greening and blossoming. My peas and lettuce are up, tulips and violets bloom. No bugs yet!

Our local farm stand opens for the season and they have asparagus. On the way to buy some flowers, the man who sells fiddleheads by the side of the road sets up his annual ritual. I buy two pounds, plus more parsnips for my husband.

At church, we celebrate spring by making May baskets to deliver to the unsuspecting. We chat and sample the chocolate, while stuffing the colorful little cones with packets of seeds, spring poems, flowers, and little treats. The fun is in delivering the baskets in stealth. I deliver several and am not seen. Success.

I change into sandals and short sleeves and enjoy a cup of iced coffee on my front porch, listening to the cardinals dance around. Everyone is out strolling on this marvelous day, the people, the squirrels, the birds, and my neighbor’s chickens. I finish my hand-stitched quilt top.

Now, sautéed fiddleheads for dinner, who could ask for anything more?

How to cook fiddleheads

            Fiddlehead ferns, usually just referred to as fiddleheads, are the tightly curled sprout of the ostrich fern, resembling the end of a fiddle. They appear in early spring throughout northern United States and Canada. With the taste and texture of asparagus, they were an important spring food for the native population, and continue to be a popular delicacy – as long as they are prepared properly. If you’ve ever been served fiddleheads that tasted like bitter dirt, no doubt they were not cleaned and blanched properly. 

Prep and blanch, don’t omit this step!

            In essence, you will soak the fiddleheads and gently rub off any brown scales, change the water and soak them again, then rinse well. While soaking, bring a large pot of salted water up to the boil. Add the fiddleheads and bring back to a boil for about a minute or two. By this time, the water in the pot should look like English breakfast tea! That is the tannin that was in the fiddleheads, and now it is safely in the water. For complete cooking instructions and illustrations, go to my page: It’s Fiddlehead Season. Once prepared, you can store them in the refrigerator for three or four days. After this, the cooking is a snap.

Simple preparation

            My favorite way to eat them is a simple saute in butter with garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. It needs no more, but if you want to add some homemade lemon mayonnaise, who doesn’t like to guild the lily? The pasta and fiddlehead salad (Trumpets and Fiddles) is a fresh and delicious spring dish. Serve it warm, then the leftovers the next day are even more flavorful as a salad!

No fiddleheads? Use asparagus!

            No fiddleheads in your area? Fear not. If you can’t get a hold of fiddleheads, you can substitute asparagus in any of my recipes using them.

For the mayonnaise, please use fresh local organic eggs, and if you are worried about using raw eggs, simply substitute pasteurized eggs. As always, organic lemons are important if using the zest. Here’s two of our favorite recipes.

Fiddleheads with Homemade Lemon Mayonnaise

Lemon mayonnaise:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup neutral oil, canola or grapeseed, etc.
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • A splash of hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper

The Fiddleheads:

  • 2 tbsp. butter or vegan butter
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. fiddleheads, blanched
  • Zest of a lemon and 1 tbsp. juice
  • Salt and pepper

First, make the mayonnaise. Place two room-temperature farm fresh local egg yolks in the food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the mustard, the zest of the lemon, and a tablespoon of the lemon juice, and a bit of salt and pepper. Mix this up. With the processor running, very slowly begin drizzling the oil, just a few drops at first. After slowly adding the first quarter cup, put the liquid feeding tube insert back in. Did you ever notice the tiny hole in the bottom? Put the rest of the oil in the feeding tube insert and it will be dispersed a tiny bit of oil at a time and you won’t have to stand over it! 

Once thickened, add the hot sauce, taste, and correct the seasoning. Set aside. If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this by hand with a large wire whisk. It will take some time, but is worth the effort.

Quick version: of course, you can always add the mustard, lemon, hot sauce, salt, and pepper to Hellman’s regular or vegan mayonnaise, but it is fun to make it from scratch now and then.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium high. Add the garlic, stir around for a few seconds, and add the fiddleheads. Sauté for two or three minutes, until tender. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, and drizzle over the lemon juice and zest.

Serve with the lemon mayonnaise and a few chives if available.

Fiddles and Trumpets Sautéed with Garlic and Anchovies

  • 8 ounces trumpet pasta
  • ¼ up extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium Vidalia onion, minced
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 4 to 6 anchovy filets, minced
  • Large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 10 ounces. cleaned and blanched fiddleheads
  • ¼ cup fresh spring chives, minced
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper

            Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions.

            Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium high and add the olive oil and onion. Saute until soft, then add the garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, a minute or so, then add the fiddleheads.

            Sauté for two to three minutes, until tender, then remove from the heat, add the chives, lemon, salt and pepper. Mix gently, then add the drained pasta.

            Plate and serve with a few more chives on top.

This makes an irresistible chilled salad the next day!

Happy May!

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69 Comments Add yours

  1. Looks delicious! And I’ve never heard of trumpet pasta.

    1. The trumpet pasta is really pretty Laurie with lacy little edges. Found this at an Italian market.

      1. Yum!

  2. Michael says:

    I always had thought this is a seed, and i have to wait for growing. Lol Lets look, maybe i will find this here in Germany again. Than i will use your recipe! Thanks for the idea, Dorothy! Have a great week ahead. xx Michael

    1. Thank you Michael! Good luck finding them, or try it with asparagus!

  3. Gail says:

    Every time I see you serve fiddleheads, I’m jelly. 😜🍃

    1. I’ll save you some Gail, but you have to be quick….

      1. Gail says:

        GOING…….GOing……..gone. 🌿

  4. NativeNM says:

    Fiddlehead ferns are not something I would ever find here in the desert Southwest but I’m amazed at the way you use them. Your pasta dish looks delicious!

    1. Thank you Jan! It is really a tasty spring treat, but you can easily substitute asparagus!

  5. Suzassippi says:

    Beautiful as always! For only $20 a pound, I can get fresh fiddleheads right now shipped from Maine. Plus, you know life has evolved when searching for “where to find fiddlehead ferns”, it takes you to a link on how to find them in a video game. Since I have not been up for cooking in several days, I am going to pass on the shipping and the video game and just admire yours and have a cup of English breakfast tea. 🙂

    1. Well, for $20 a pound, I’d go for the asparagus!
      I never knew I could find fiddleheads in a video game, and to think of all that work picking them myself……

      1. Suzassippi says:

        They are in Stardew Valley. 🙂

      2. Well, the next time I pass by Stardew Valley, I’ll be on the lookout!

  6. I have never had fiddlehead ferns, and what an interesting cooking tip! The fiddleheads and pasta sounds like a perfect Spring dish!

    1. Thank you! The dish really does taste like spring to me, and it would with the asparagus too!

  7. Coco says:

    Yummy recipe

    1. Thank you Coco! We love all these dishes.

  8. BERNADETTE says:

    What a delicious looking spring treat. I have never come across fiddleheads outside of a restaurant in my area.

    1. Thank you! You never know what might be in that pickup truck stopped alongside the road!

  9. Maggie says:

    Fiddleheads were a staple for us in both Maine and Alaska. In Alaska we gathered them in kitchen sized trash bags. They were cleaned, blanched or parboiled then frozen for winter veggies.

    1. Wow, trash bag stash!!!!! So good for you, I think I forgot to mention that part. Happy eating!

      1. Maggie says:

        My son just told me how much he hates the taste. I think he had too many as a child.

      2. Yes, I can see how that might affect his appetite!

  10. Great dish, so fresh and “springy”!
    I just wish I could get some decent fiddlehead, as I love them so much. but I don’t even bother with what we have here. So I’ll have to go with the asparagus option.

    1. Thank you Ronit! The asparagus is great in this dish, so fulfilling at this time of year.

      1. Still didn’t see really nice ones, but hopefully soon! 🙂

      2. It is time! I found some great ones this weekend, and more to come, even though it has been a rather cold spring so far. That just means it will all last longer!

      3. I’ll be looking for it! 🙂

  11. Jovina Coughlin says:

    Happy May
    A delicious and creative pasta dish.

    1. Thank you! It was well received!

  12. Hi Dorothy, I’ve learned something new. I have never heard of fiddlehead ferns. I grew up in the Deep South of the United States. It is amazing how many different foods there are in this beautiful world. Thank you for sharing. . .Have a lovely week.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and enjoying the post! Sadly, they do not grow in the south, but there are so many wonderful things that do and that’s what keeps it all so interesting.

      1. So true! I grew up on collard greens and black eyed peas. I lived on the coast of Georgia and we had fresh caught flounder daily. . .Ah, I start remembering how my mama cooked. . .food is love. . and so many memories. . .

      2. The best and deepest memories, being nurtured by our mothers through food.

  13. leggypeggy says:

    We don’t have fiddleheads in Australia, but I enjoyed them once—in Bhutan.

    1. I hope you enjoyed them as much as we do!

    2. leggypeggy says:

      They were excellent. A good introduction.

  14. Never had fiddleheads before moving to New England. Now spouse asks for fiddlehead risotto every year when they’re in season. I’ll have to try your recipes too. Thank you for these!

  15. c.a. says:

    I was going to say, “Well, fiddlesticks! No fiddleheads in our neck of the woods.”
    But then you suggested one of my favorites for a substitute!: asparagus. 🙂

  16. CarolCooks2 says:

    Methinks asparagus it is… apparently you can forage them here so I have tasked my DIL with that job(fingers) crossed she finds me some it does look delicious by the way 🙂

  17. I don’t use the the word ‘beautiful’ with food ingredients, but these are just that. I could work really hard in your garden in exchange for a to-go-dish of that. It looks beautiful and delicious.

    1. Thank you Judy! It was a beautiful dish! And be careful what you wish for, I might take you up on that!

  18. nancyc says:

    I don’t think there are fiddleheads in our area, but I like the idea of using asparagus, and the lemon mayonnaise sounds so good!

    1. The asparagus is a great substitution, and they appear about the same time!

  19. Julia says:

    Wow! My mouth is watering! This sounds so good and I have never had fiddleheads. Your pictures are stunning as always and I can picture digging into the pasta.

    1. That pasta was so good, and even better the next day as a cold salad!

      1. Julia says:

        Oh, I could see that. Next time I have a chance to pick up some asparagus, I am going to make this. I really like the thought that I could have cold leftovers for a pasta salad.

      2. It was even better. Have fun with it!

  20. terrie gura says:

    OK, I have so many things to say, I don’t know where to start. First, I don’t believe I have ever tasted fiddlehead ferns, but now I want to and only if you make them for me. This sounds so much like it must be done by someone who has known them for years to tame that wild flavor. I wanted to dig a fork right into the picture of your fiddleheads with the trumpet pasta; oh my goodness! I also would love to know what food processor you have with that special drip tube. Mine doesn’t have that and I’m on the hunt for a new one with all the right bells and whistles. 🙂

    1. Thank you Terrie! Such a sweet thing to say!
      Fiddleheads are an amazing wild food, and we’re right in the middle of their season right now. We’re having them again for supper. They really aren’t hard to prepare, you just need to blanch them to remove all that tannin, and after doing it the first time, you will be a pro.
      Mine is a basic Cuisinart. Are you sure your food processor doesn’t have a little hole in the “pusher” for the feeding tube? Take another look. I owned mine for years before a friend told me about it and I was amazed I never noticed it before! (It was probably in the instructions, which I probably didn’t read…).

      1. terrie gura says:

        I did get my hopes up about this, but at your suggestion, I have thoroughly inspected my 20+ year old KitchenAid. That little pusher piece is watertight. Just as well that I not find a benefit on the machine at this point. It has served its time and I’m in the deep end on my research to find the next one.

      2. Oh, so sorry! I guess I’d better stop telling people about the little hole. When I learned about it, I inspected many a machine and they all had the hole! This was about 15 years ago…
        Just make sure whatever food processor you get the bottom of the steel blade is almost on the bottom of the bowl, otherwise you won’t be able to process small amounts, especially something like the egg yolks when you start the mayonnaise.
        Ask me how I know this…

  21. They look great! Unfortunately not available here. Although we do have ferns in the local forest, but it would be illegal to pick those.

    1. It’s only the one variety of fern, and although I’m familiar where it grows in this country, I’m not sure where they can be found elsewhere. A good thing to research I think!

  22. Christy B says:

    You describe a beautiful May day at the start of your post, Dorothy! Wishing you a wonderful meal 🙂

    1. Thanks Christy, it was one of those perfect early spring days. Couldn’t have been better!

  23. Sherry M says:

    how fascinating. and they look so pretty too!

    1. They are delightful!

  24. Hello Dorothy! I love your church community and tradition of giving. I also love the annual vegetable vendor at the side if the road. Here in the west coast, we have dine away with vege vendors at the roadside. We have everywhere vendors called “the farmers’ market’.

    When it comes to your fiddlehead, which all look delicious, but, Fiddles and Trumpets Sautéed with Garlic and Anchovies is the big winner if my heart

  25. Obong eno says:

    Wow, long to be in your kitchen 😋

    1. Thank you so much! There’s always an empty chair!

      1. Obong eno says:

        Okay thanks🥰

  26. Zocido says:


  27. Wow! I’ve never heard of this delight but if tastes like asparagus I would love it! They are also looking cute ☺️ Sounds the perfect dinner for a gorgeous day!

    1. It was a lovely day indeed!

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