“Watch out, they grow so fast one might hit you in the eye” dead panned our guide Brian. He was joking of course, fiddlehead ferns grow fast, but not quite that fast. I had been invited on a fiddlehead foraging trip to New Brunswick in Canada and we were busy picking the fiddleheads along the banks of the Miramichi river. The river was wide and fast flowing, surrounded by a great expanse of land, trees and sky. Brian had spotted the fiddleheads from our boats, speeding along the river. He pointed to the lurid green skunk cabbages which usually grow next to the fiddleheads.
A fiddlehead fern
Alongside the skunk cabbages sure enough were the fiddleheads. Tiny, babies of a plant. For those who don’t know (I didn’t) fiddleheads are the unfurled frond of the ostrich fern and native to North America. The name comes from the resemblance to the tuning end of a fiddle. Fiddlehead’s have a unique, tender and fresh taste that reminded me of an asparagus or green bean.
Fiddleheads growing, covered in brown membrane that needs to be cleaned off
Along the river banks the fiddleheads’ delicate fronds were curled up tightly and covered by a thin brown membrane. Brian told us to look for those fiddleheads which had not started to unfurl at all and to snap them just before they started to curl, discarding most of the stalk.
Along the banks of the mighty Miramichi where we foraged for fiddleheads
After we had filled our buckets (with Brian putting the rest of us to shame) we washed the fiddleheads in the river by shaking them through the water in a bucket with holes in to let the water pass through. This process removed the brown membranes and any pieces of grass and dirt. Then it was back to O’Donnells Cottages where we were staying to cook the fiddleheads.
Our haul – 40lbs of fiddleheads
O’Donnells cottages are a series of rustic log cabins in Doaktown New Brunswick. Creature comforts are limited with scratchy towels and worn furniture but the attraction is the simple pleasures like porches, rocking chairs, log fires and the view of the mighty Miramichi river.
View from our cabin at O’Donnell’s Cottages
Valarie O’Donnell is in charge of the kitchen at O’Donnells where she creates lovingly prepared home cooked meals. It’s not fine dining but the produce used featured some good local and seasonal produce such as grilled chicken teamed with homemade blueberry sauce and rhubarb crumble using rhubarb from Valerie’s neighbour’s garden. Breakfast in particular was a treat with hearty serves of bacon, scrambled eggs and hash brown, waffles drizzled with Canadian maple syrup and fresh blueberry muffins.
Breakfast at O’Donnell’s of waffles, bacon and maple syrup
However, during our stay it was all about the fiddleheads. We learnt how to freeze the fiddleheads, pickle them and cook them in a soup for our lunch. Whether it was the experience of helping forage for and then cook the meal, or just the fact that the fiddleheads were ridiculously fresh the soup was delicious. The creaminess of the soup was balanced perfectly by the springy green fiddleheads and I noted down Valerie’s recipe.
Valerie’s fiddlehead soup
Valerie’s Fiddlehead Soup
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups chicken stock
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 handful basil leaves
500gms fiddlehead ferns (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
Salt and pepper to season
Cutting the fiddleheads for the soup
1. Melt the butter over a low heat then carefully mix in the flour to make a roux.
2. Stir in the chicken stock and cream of chicken soup and simmer over a low heat.
3. Meanwhile cook the fiddleheads in boiling water for 7 mins then drain.
4. Chop the fiddleheads roughly, leaving four aside for decoration.
5. Stir in the chopped fiddleheads to the soup mixture then add the milk and cream. Mix together then simmer for a further 5 mins.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stirring the cream and milk into the soup
Gourmet Travel tips
- We flew with Air Canada from London to Halifax then on to Moncton. Doaktown is a two and a half hour drive from Moncton. Flights were £694 return.
- A room in a cabin at O’Donnell’s Cottages costs $119 a night while the guided fiddlehead foraging trip is $59. O’Donnell’s Cottages & Expeditions, 439 Storeytown Rd, Doaktown, New Brunswick, E9C 1T3 Canada (Ph 1-800-563-8724)
The porch at O’Donnell’s – there was no real mobile reception but the porch had wifi!
Besides fiddlehead foraging in Doaktown you can also visit the Atlantic Salmon museum for some background on other produce the area is famous for, drive to the covered bridge or the Doak House. There is also a lot to be said for sitting and watching the river flow by with a glass of wine.
Random stuffed bear in the Atlantic Salmon museum
Gourmet Chick was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission along with Eat Like a Girl and Oliver Thring.
If you liked reading about fiddlehead foraging you might be interested in truffle hunting in Provence.