Damn Yankees!, or Fiddlehead Strikes Out

Yeah, I don’t like the Yankees, not one bit. But this post isn’t about baseball, it’s about Yankee Fiddlehead Casserole and failure. We don’t see enough failure in the blogosphere. Just shiny success stories. (Actually, not entirely true. See if you can get through this.)

Let’s face it: anyone who cooks experiences failure—or they’re not trying hard enough. Right now I have a casserole dish more than half-filled with food that no one wants to eat. I suppose the tip-off should have been the mindless replication of this one fiddlehead recipe online. Dozens of sources for it, all with the exact same ingredients. I figured I was being clever to tweak it a bit and add a twist or two. No matter. What came out of the oven was, in a word, gross.

A big part of the problem was the fiddleheads themselves. Here in the Pac NW we’re limited to the lady fern for our fiddlehead fix. While much of the rest of the country basks in the cool shade of the stately ostrich fern, we get the coy lady, who dispenses her favors with a penurious fickleness. Now don’t get me wrong, the lady is a lovely fern, and can wow in the right conditions, but she’s no ostrich. (I’ve heard rumors of a few ostrich patches in the North Cascades and the far northeastern corner of Washington State…unverified as of yet.) Lady fern fiddleheads are not as firm as ostrich, and they can be bitter if not picked immediately after emergence. There are tricks to dealing with bitter fiddleheads, prolonged boils and such, or balanced ingredient matching. But I was in denial.

The marriage of tender, sweet ham and slightly bitter fiddleheads was headed for divorce court before the first rose petal hit the ground. My lunch of Fusilli with Fiddleheads the other day was delicious—in part because the lemon juice and zest brightened the fiddlheads, and the parm tied it all together with the pasta. There was no such tying together at dinner. So chalk this one up as a loser. Next time I’ll pay more attention to that little voice saying “Beware, beware…”

Thimbleberry Crisis

In other news, I’m halfway through my last jar of thimbleberry jam and already suffering from withdrawal. This is quite simply the best jam I’ve ever made, and it wasn’t even a fancy blend of ingredients—just thimbleberries, sugar, and a little lemon juice. You see, most of us haven’t eaten thimbleberry jam because the berries very rarely make it to a receptacle other than the palm of our hand before being greedily devoured.

For you jam enthusiasts out there: I advise restraint. Save enough thimbleberries during your berry reconnaissance—just a couple pints, if you can manage it—and you’ll be very happy come winter. And then very sad when that too is gone. August can’t come quick enough.


Been reviewing the first typeset pages of Fat of the Land the book! Excitement here at FOTL headquarters building. Stay tuned for cover art, which should be up soon…

Bon weekend everyone!

12 thoughts on “Damn Yankees!, or Fiddlehead Strikes Out

  1. esmaa

    You are absolutely right: I have never had thimbleberry jam. A thumbleberry in view is a thimbleberry soon eaten.

    I’m in awe of your restraint.

  2. LC

    Esmaa – Try try TRY to save a few this summer for jam. I know, I know…they have a shelf life of like 2 seconds, but if you can smuggle some home and into the pot, you won’t be disappointed.

  3. audrey

    It’s a good point about there mostly being shiny success stories on the web. And zillions more recipes than you could ever use. I like it when a recipes comes with comments or reviews. It’s helpful to read about what worked or didn’t work and adjust accordingly.

  4. Martha Silano

    So, the coy lady ain’t no ostrich; I’ll second that! There was nothing in this dish having anything to do with marriage: it was more of a Crisco cage fight between the ham and the cheese. The fiddleheads? They were in some sort of soupy slump way off in the corner, begging for mercy. And UGH, they were mushy. (Sorry hon, but I wouldn’t even attempt composting this one . . .).

    Always good to get the news just in from “FOTL Headquarters” (um, would that be your . . . bed?).

    your bleeding knees on accounta being slammed onto the beach into a pile of sharp broken shells beneath your behometh wave of cause celeb wife.

  5. Lo

    First — kudos on posting something that didn’t make the cut. We do that on occasion, but sometimes I’m just TOO heartbroken to admit we’ve stumbled upon a dud!

    All of that said… after morels, fiddleheads are my second favorite foraged find (with ramps being a close third). I’ve decided I’m planting some in my yard for next year, as they’re awfully difficult to find here in WI.

  6. LC

    Audrey – I hear you. This recipe was everywhere, with little intros like: “A New England classic,” etc. And since I hail from N.E. originally, maybe I fell too easily.

    Marty – Sheesh. I guess you’re feeling inspired by all the great poets converging on Spokane for the “Get Lit” festival…or is that the post-reading wine & cheese speaking? Have fun. XO

    Lo – Go for it. Ferns make attractive additions to any garden–esp. if you can eat them!

  7. mdmnm

    Yeah, I was thinking about failure last night after an attempt to use up some tortillas in enchiladas made w/ greens and Oaxacan cheese didn’t come out right. Sometimes things just don’t come together.

  8. jeremy

    ostrich fern does exist in northeast washington i have a nice patch just outside of silverlake. they are superior, but dont tell my customers. starting to find morels now on time as usual.

  9. Dia

    Oh, no wonder the recipes always sounded better than the actual fiddleheads here in the NW!! After the first few attempts, we put that on the ‘no’ list, & moved on to other wildlings . . .

    Now thimbleberry jam . . . one of the first flower essences I made was thimbleberry (def: to connect with the Devas), when I lived at Breitenbush Hot Springs – I remember a lot more flowers than berries 🙂

  10. drfugawe

    Failure, mi amigo, is not just life’s great teacher, it is the essence of improvement – I have come to look on failure as a positive, for without failure, there would never be progress.

  11. LC

    Mdmnm – Your attempt *sounds* good…

    Jeremy – Hey, thanks for the visit. I’m ready to start scouting riparian morels at my usual spots. Should be a little earlier than last year.

    Dia – You’re so right about the flower to berry ratio w/ thimbles. Don’t give up on lady fern fiddleheads–try to pick the cream of the crop and see what happens.

    Doc – Said like a true Zen master!

  12. Sapuche

    I just came across some fiddlehead on a mountain trail in Hawaii where I live. I should have picked some to cook with, but I wasn’t exactly sure what they were at the time. My wife, who’s from Japan, recognized them as “zenmai,” which she says are commonly found in rural Japanese cuisine. I’m really happy I’ve come across your blog, as you offer some wonderful ideas of what to do (and not to do) with wild foods. Sorry your fiddlehead struck out in this dish, but at least you have the tail end of your thimbleberry jam to compensate for your loss. And congrats on the progress of your book. I saw it listed on Amazon and will be checking in again soon to see about its availability!


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