A fleeting fiddlehead fix
That’s the evocative name given to edible fern fronds that curl out of the forest floor in spring. They’re beautiful to look at, and are considered one of the delicacies of the season. With a flavour that’s reminiscent of asparagus and artichoke with woodsy notes of moss, they are quite the tasty mouthful.
I eat fiddleheads in very modest quantities, however, and only a couple of times in a season at most. The reason? Well, as Langdon Cook asks about bracken fern in Fat of the Land, “To eat or not to eat?”
That is the question. Fiddleheads are known to contain toxins, harbour microbes, and those from bracken ferns may be carcinogenic! And while that may hold true of many of the things we encounter consciously or otherwise in daily life, it’s still fair warning. Still ready to eat on? You decide, and if you say no, there’s always asparagus and artichokes
While here in Vancouver the most commonly available fiddleheads come from ostrich ferns, in Coorg, where a dazzling range of ferns thrive, tender shoots , known as thermé were traditionally harvested from a few varieties mostly during the monsoon season. With kitchen gardens pounded to slush by the relentless rains, potherbs would have been scarce and seeking out wild greens was a necessary part of life.
Locals carry with them intimate knowledge of when, where and how to harvest anything remotely edible. Of the various kinds of fern shoots harvested, even those that are considered safe to eat can cause illness if improperly cooked or even eaten out of season. Another good reason to always go foraging with someone who really knows what they’re looking for!
Thermé is cooked in many simple and delicious ways and they combine particularly well with eggs. Wrapped in banana leaves with a little coconut oil or ghee and roasted in hot ashes, they’re good enough to drive any monsoon blues away!
A simple recipe from my friend Latha, combines thermé shoots with eggs in a tasty scramble.
Latha’s Thermé palya
- 1/2 kg thermé shoots
350 gms fiddleheads*
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 4-5 tbsp coconut oil
- 6-7 dry red chillis, broken into large bits
- 3-4 eggs
1/2 cup grated coconut, ground to a paste
- Rock salt
Pick over the thermé shoots and discard any that are not tender enough to snap easily. Wash thoroughly in plenty of cold water. Break (don’t chop) the fronds into pieces about 4″ long. You may blanch them if you wish.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions for a couple of minutes, then add the red chillis. Cook for a minute, then add the thermé. Stir to mix and fry uncovered till the greens start to wilt.The volume will reduce considerably, so do not add salt until the thermé seems tender and down to about 1/4 its original volume – in approximately 12-15 minutes.
Break in the eggs and stir gently to coat the greens. It’s ready when the eggs are set to your liking. If you’re using coconut instead, add it now and cook for another minute before removing.
Finish with a squeeze of citron or lemon juice.
* Health Canada recommends cooking them thoroughly. I choose to blanch them twice before using them in any recipe.
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