Year of Grace, Day 181. Fiddleheads

One of the things that endear ferns to me are their tightly curled emerging fronds, aptly called fiddleheads. They are also called croziers. They are one of the wonders of early spring, and I eagerly look forward to the time when fiddleheads appear. I find their structure utterly enthralling. Here are some from under the quince tree in my English garden.

Fiddlehead ferns are a delicacy in Canada, but those are from a different fern – the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). In Japan, the same ostrich fern fiddleheads are called kogomi and are prized as mountain vegetables (sansai), together with fiddleheads of the bracken fern, called warabi (Pteridium aquilinum). Warabi have to undergo rigorous presoaking first (akunuki) before they are considered safe to cook. Even then, it is not advisable to eat them too often.

These ferns in my English garden are winter-hardy. I’ve never quite established whether they are male ferns (Dryopteris filix-mas) or female ferns (Athyrium filix-femina). They die down in winter, but come up again in the spring. I had discovered rather small volunteers growing by the steps outside the kitchen, and transplanted one under the quince and one by the pond. Obviously, they loved their new homes, as they have thrived and since grown into huge clumps.

In my garden here in Bonn, I’ve managed to establish small ferns on the once bare dry stone wall. I found them growing along a path and transplanted them, packing them in between the stones with a bit of nourishing potting soil. When it gets too hot and it hasn’t rained in a while, they wilt, but perk up again when watered.

In the Batanes Islands — the northernmost of the Philippines’ 7000-odd islands, I had ferns prepared as a salad — steamed and served with a dressing of chopped tomatoes, the juice of small citrus fruits called calamansi in Tagalog (Citrofortunella microcarpa, also C. mitis), and anchovy sauce (bagoong in Tagalog). Delicious!

Fern salad Batan Lodge2Another type of fern sold in the market on Batan Island is bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus. I didn’t have a chance to taste these cooked however. Sorry about the fuzzy photo. I shall have to go back to take better ones and have a taste while I’m at it.The Victorians in England were absolutely mad about ferns, so mad that later generations didn’t want anything to do with them for years. But there is a growing appreciation for them once again.  I do love ferns. Even if they don’t have any flowers at all. That some of them are edible is a bonus!

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