Thanks to recent above-average temperatures the fiddleheads are up and ready for picking.

Members of the secret underground society of fiddlehead pickers are out in their carefully guarded prime spots gathering the earthy delicacy. Fiddleheads are harvested predominantly in Maine. One should not even think of trespassing on private property to gather the ferns, according to fiddlehead harvesters. The landowner might belong to the secret society. Always check first.

The ostrich fern is the plant of harvest for fiddleheads in Maine. They grow in clusters of three to 12 along the banks of rivers, streams and brooks, or along the edges of islands on lakes, according to harvesters. Those locations are where the ferns thrive, because during the spring thaw and rains the waterways rise and then recede. This environment is perfect for fiddleheads. The fern should reach 2 or 3 inches above ground before being picked.

The ostrich fern is recognized by its hearty, healthy concave stalk, according to harvesters. There are other impostor ferns, so one should always look for the concave stalk. There is no need to take a knife or scissors; just a gentle grasp around the end of the stalk and a twist releases the fern from the ground.

The fiddlehead fern emerges from a cocoon of light and airy brown paper. To rid the ferns of the papery coating, one anonymous harvester uses a homemade box with a screen on the bottom. The fiddleheads are placed in this box and then over a floor fan that is propped facing up between two chairs. When the fan is turned on and the fiddleheads are stirred, little bits of papery particles float off into the breeze — a clean and easy process.

In the 1980s, according to harvesters, a toxin was associated with raw fiddleheads. Then it was recommended that people cook the ferns for at least 10 minutes before consuming. This was because mills, factories and industrial plants were built along the banks of rivers in Maine and pollution from these companies might have been introduced into the waterways, according to harvesters.

To freeze the fiddleheads, first blanch them by bringing a pot of water to a boil and placing the fiddleheads in the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and boil for five minutes. Change the water and repeat. Remove the fiddleheads and let them cool and then freeze them in a frost-proof bag. One can also vacuum-pack them; however, first they must be frozen slightly so they don’t get crushed.

According to Nutritionaldata.com, the daily nutritional value of one ounce of fiddleheads provides 20 percent vitamin A, 12 percent vitamin C, 2 percent iron, 1 percent calcium, 1 gram protein, 10 calories, no fat, no cholesterol and 2 grams of carbohydrates.

Recipes

Fiddleheads with Red Potatoes

1 bag gourmet little red potatoes
1 large sweet onion
1 large tablespoon crushed garlic
1 large quart of fiddleheads

Cut potatoes in half. Dice onion. Bring potatoes and diced onion to a boil. Cook for about three minutes until slightly tender. Add fiddleheads and garlic and bring back to a boil. Cook for five to eight minutes.

Drain. Add one to two tablespoons butter and salt and pepper.

Maine Martini

1 1/2 ounces Maine-made Cold River Vodka, chilled
3/4 ounce Bartlett Winery Pear French Oak dry or Pear dry wine, chilled
1 or 2 Spruce Bush Farm pickled fiddleheads, chilled

Chill a martini glass and gently combine vodka and wine. Add fiddlehead and enjoy.