Lisa and Andrea Sockabasin have been harvesting fiddleheads since they were little girls, a springtime tradition in Wabanaki culture, and one that has been passed down across thousands of years of generations. On a chilly spring day in Maine, with the trees bursting with baby green leaves and those infamous black flies out in full force, Lisa (accompanied by her son) and Andrea (accompanied by her daughter) included us in one of their fiddlehead treks, starting with a traditional offering of tobbaco to give thanks to the land before beginning the harvest.
As Andrea and Lisa explain in this episode, this ritual of offering thanks to the land in reciprocity for the gifts that the earth bestows upon us, is at the heart of Indigenous values. There is so much wisdom contained in this ritual, and so much to be learned about how to relate to the earth in a way that is grounded in respect and reciprocity. In an era where so much of our food is polluted, whether it be with microplastics, with pesticides, with PFAS, or other toxic pollutants, it’s clear that what we do to the earth, comes right back to us through the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.
In this episode, Lisa and Andrea share how they harvest and prepare fiddleheads. They emphasized how important it is, as with all wild plants, not to take more than you need, and to always leave a few unpicked fiddleheads for every plant you harvest from so that the plant survives and renews itself year after year. If you’ve never heard of it, a fiddlehead is made up of the tightly coiled fronds of the Ostrich fern, right before the fern unfurls into its full leafy glory. They are prized and special because they come around only once a year, usually around the end of April to end of May in the northeast. As Lisa described, they taste kind of like a cross between asparagus and Swiss chard, green and earthy. Fiddleheads, like so many wild plants, are incredibly healthy. They’re rich in potassium, iron, antioxidants, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids. But they also contain a toxin that can make you sick if you don’t cook them properly (as I woefully experienced the very first time I cooked them as a teenager!). So it’s important to first boil them for at least 10 to 15 minutes to release the toxins, as Lisa and Andrea demonstrate in the video.
Lisa and Andrea are co-workers at Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness which provides community-driven, culturally centered public health and social services to all Wabanaki communities and people while honoring Wabanaki cultural knowledge, cultivating innovation, and fostering collaboration. Much of their work centers around food sovereignty and growing and sharing food as a tool for healing. The Wabanaki (“People of the First Light (or Dawnland)”) include the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot nations and their traditional territories span from Newfoundland in the north, to mid-Maine in the south, and parts of Quebec in the west. As Europeans captured and declared ownership of Wabanaki lands over the years, Wabanaki People were pushed into more isolated parts of Maine. Today, Wabanaki People primarily live in Aroostook and Washington counties in Maine.
Have you ever foraged for fiddleheads? How do you like to prepare them? Tell us in the comments below, and try Lisa and Andrea’s delicious method for preparing them. And of course, as with any wild foraged plants, be sure to accurately identify the species to avoid potentially poisonous plant relatives.
Lisa and Andrea’s Sautéed Fiddleheads
- 1 pound fiddleheads
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Rinse the fiddleheads thoroughly under running water, removing the papery brown husks and trimming the ends.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Transfer the fiddleheads into the boiling water and boil them for 15 minutes (*please note this step is very important because undercooked fiddleheads contain a toxin that can cause foodborne illness*).
- Drain and rinse, then place the fiddleheads in an ice water bath to cool and stop the cooking process. Drain and arrange on a kitchen towel to pat them dry.
- Over medium heat, sautée the garlic in the olive oil for just a minute until fragrant, then add the drained fiddleheads. Sautée until their edges just start to brown, around 4 to 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm and enjoy!
Yield: 4 servings
Aube Giroux is a food writer, a James Beard award-winning documentary filmmaker and a passionate organic gardener and home cook, who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.