In honor of Spring and fiddleheads, we offer up this excerpt from the wonderful book, The Cows are Out! by Trudy Chamber Price. In the book, Trudy wrote about her roughly twenty years (1960s into the 1980s) owning and running a dairy farm on Knox Ridge. Here's a picture of Trudy with John Ford Sr., (author of Suddenly, The Cider Didn't Taste So Good) in a picture taken in Waldo County just last fall.
"I had my own fiddlehead patch, making me one of the luckiest people in the state of Maine. My favorite food since early childhood has been steamed fiddleheads with butter and salt. Growing up in Aroostook County, I considered eating fiddleheads, usually picked by my grandfather, part of an annual spring ritual. I just took them for granted. Of course today, fiddleheads are considered a delicacy in many fine restaurants.
"As an adult, I always shared my harvest of fiddleheads with friends and relatives, but I have shared my fiddlehead patch with only four other people—besides my husband—whom I trusted to keep the secret. Never ask anyone to reveal the location of her fiddlehead patch.
"My neighbor actually gets the credit for discovering it. He noticed the ferns in the woods on Beaver Hill when he was installing drainage tile in fields that we were preparing to seed down by plowing, harrowing, and picking rocks. Although it was too late to harvest the fiddleheads that spring, I was forever beholden to him for his discovery.
"One May, according to my calendar, fiddlehead season had arrived. It was my morning off from barn chores, but I still awoke at 5:00 A.M., so I decided to go fiddleheading. I should have known by the absence of blackflies that the fiddleheads weren’t quite ready. I went anyway because I didn’t want one sprout of the succulent wild vegetable to get ahead of me. My suspicions were right—not one fiddlehead had yet poked through the brown root mounds.
"After two warm, rainy days, the blackflies were out. I visited my patch again. Eureka! The fiddleheads were up—meaning mossy-green, quarter-sized coils stood ready on three-inch stems. I came home with a small mess of Mother Nature’s first taste of spring.
"On my third trip to the patch, the fresh air felt cool against my face. Along the dirt road to the alfalfa field, the hazy sunshine filtered long early morning shadows through the baby green leaves. The first dandelion blossoms—whose greens are the first taste of spring for some people—fringed the rock wall that I stepped across. New alfalfa had started to grow, but last year’s dry stubble crunched under my boots as I hiked toward the woods with my plastic shopping bags and a bottle of fly repellent, just in case. No blackflies in sight. I was up before them. I stepped into the woods and saw that some ferns had unfurled their heads. In just a few days, those exposed to sunshine had grown knee high and were too tall to pick. But there in the shade beside the spring brook grew the perfect green clumps. I began grabbing handfuls, seven or eight stalks at a time.
"Why was I hurrying? I had no deadlines this morning and there were enough fiddleheads to fill two shopping bags. Still, I continued to pick full tilt, wanting to harvest the stalks before they could grow any bigger. All the while I took care not to step on some jack-in-the-pulpits that thrived in the same damp environment as fiddleheads. I didn’t even stop to wipe the drip on the end of my nose.
"Leaving the taller stems to become ferns, I invaded the middle section of shorter plants, plucking out the tenderest and tastiest morsels that had barely popped through their brown skins. Two hours and two bags full of fiddleheads later, I realized that I had not yet spoken to anyone this morning, and no one had spoken to me except Old Sam Peabody whose song I returned by whistling. With regret that a few fiddleheads had outgrown my picking and a promise to those not yet through their brown skins that I would return, I left my favorite spot to go cook breakfast for my family.
"As I walked from the woods, the first morning blackflies buzzed my head and a crow squawked from his perch. On the way home I left my friend Mattie enough fiddleheads for dinner and later dropped some off for my sister-in-law. The rest I would put in the freezer for special occasions such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or when we had guests. If they had never tasted Maine’s delicacy, I made certain that our guests were in another room when I drained the brown water from the cooking pot. If they were hesitant about tasting the curious coiled young fronds, the brown water might increase their hesitancy.
"For several days after the picking, my green-stained fingers and nails would remind me of the bountiful excursion and the solitude of my fiddlehead patch—no telephone, no calves blatting for morning milk, no manure to shovel. My back complained, but my soul had been revitalized for at least another week." ~ Trudy