A while ago I was at San Francisco’s Ferry Building on a Saturday morning, when the place just explodes into the Bay Area’s most fantastic farmer’s market.  And so I bought…stuff.  Berries and Chinese broccoli and hot sauces and things I knew.  But the fun part of a market like this is the produce you don’t know.  So I bought a little punnet of fiddleheads–fern shoots. Aren’t these just the cutest thing in the world?IMG_0850

The seller told me that, being Western fiddleheads, they needed two trips through the blanching pan, so I did that, and then sautéd them in some butter.  They taste vaguely artichoke-ish, and they’re firmer than I expected.  Whenever I cook something new I make it very basic, so I taste what it is rather than the flavorings.  Next time I might use garlic, and a flavored oil.

Have you tried fiddleheads?  Any other odd veggies you love?

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  1. Linda on April 21, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Fiddleheads are a Vermont springtime staple! Enjoy your western variety, Laurie!

  2. Tricia Mills on April 21, 2015 at 6:56 am

    I have tried them from Whole Foods. I didn’t blanch them—no helpful farmer there to tell me that, but I stir-fried them with some other veggies and mushrooms. I liked them, but they are a bit pricey so have not tried them again.

  3. Merrily Taylor on April 21, 2015 at 7:00 am

    I never saw a fiddlehead firm until sometime in the 1980’s when a friend served them to me for dinner. I can’t even remember if I liked them or not, but I was fascinated by their look. Good for you for trying Strange Vegetables!

  4. patricia on April 21, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Lived in Maine for a few years and fiddleheads were a welcome sign of spring. My favorite alien veggie is romanesco broccoli–it’s almost too oddly beautiful to cook.

    Thank you for Dreaming Spies, I enjoyed it so much. Laughed out loud when I read “Master Criminal” and then nodded when I read the dedication. Love the entire series.

  5. Sally on April 21, 2015 at 7:41 am

    I usually just rinse them well, make sure all the brown papery stuff is gone, steam them until nearly done and then stirfry with minced garlic until tender. I think they taste similiar to asparagus. A wonderful, yummy, spring food!

  6. Patti Lounsbury on April 21, 2015 at 7:48 am

    When I was growing up in Oregon a friend and I would catch a bunch of crawdads and harvest fiddleheads on her family’s farm. We would cook them up using coffee cans in a campfire, blanching the fiddleheads first as her Mom had taught us. Some sweet butter and then wild blackberries for dessert. Yum, those were wonderful times!

    • Laurie King on April 21, 2015 at 8:03 am

      Wow, my mouth is watering!

  7. Mary Garrett on April 21, 2015 at 7:50 am

    I have never tasted them. I love seeing them in the woods . . .

  8. Annette Lessmann on April 21, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Fiddlehead fern soup. Tastes very much like cream of asparagus soup.

  9. Mary Achor on April 21, 2015 at 7:57 am

    “…a little punnet of fiddleheads…” My, you have such a way with words. (Snort.)

  10. Deborah on April 21, 2015 at 8:01 am

    THe fiddlehead shoots are gorgeous. Better yet, you brought me a new word, punnet. I imagine Mary Russell foraging for fiddleheads and wonder if they will be edible once she’s cooked them. I Just finished re-reading The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I will read through the whole series again, loving them even more now that I know how things progress in their lives. THANK YOU!

  11. Margaret Wood on April 21, 2015 at 8:20 am

    It is difficult to grow green leaved vegetables in the San Fernando Valley’s blistering summers but the weed, purslane, thrives in the heat with little water. I use it with other greens to make green smoothies. In Mexico it is used as a cooked vegetable and in egg dishes. I also plant the French version which has larger leaves and is more upright, needs less washing.

  12. Lois Simpson on April 21, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Mizuna. A Japanese salad green that tastes a bit peppery. I bet Mary and Sherlock ate it in Japan in “Dreaming Spies.” Since I have never seen it available here in the Midwest, I pick the similar-tasting arugula from my lawn. (Pesticide-free, of course.) It cost about 5 bucks for half a pound at the local “Whole Paycheck” market, but is free at home. It looks like a weed, but check a picture online somewhere, so you know for sure what you are eating. It is amazing with mint and cilantro and a Thai-inspired dressing with lime juice/fish sauce/jalapeno.

    Have been re-reading the books, and now listening to the audio versions. Hubby and I are in hysterics over “Pirate King!” He is musicologist, who, among other things, has researched and reconstructed the original Gilbert and Sullivan versions of “Pirates,” “Pinafore” and “Mikado.” Dallas Opera, Santa Fe, and Opera Theatre of St. Louis have all performed his editions. Needless to say, excerpts of their dialogs keep playing in our heads. Holmes as the Major General is inspired casting! G & S would have highly approved. If only the silent film of “Pirate Queen” would surface. Wonder if you could turn that into a libretto and we could turn that into a new opera? Fernando Pessoa would approve. You and my dear husband could be the next G & S, minus Sullivan’s drug habit. Check the video of “Topsy Turvy” out of your local library. Love, love, love libraries, BTW. Essential for research, and a drug-free form of recreation. Well, maybe not, since books are addictive. Especially yours.

    • Laurie King on April 21, 2015 at 10:41 am

      One of the great disappointments of my life was when the gent who wanted to build an opera around To Play the Fool went off to play with some other toy, but yes, Russell & Holmes romping across the stage would be vast fun.
      And yes, Mizuna is nice, one of the salad mixes I get had some in it.

  13. Nora on April 21, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Always fun to try new things – love asparagus so would probably like this too.

    Just finished “Dreaming Spies” – loved it, of course! The background about Japan made the book even more interesting. Have all your books except the Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Well, I HAD it – the first book I bought – but foolishly loaned it to a friend who insisted she took good care of her books and it came back to me looking like every page had been licked and was left upside down in the rain for days! She obviously never got anymore of my R&S books! “Locked Rooms” has to be my favorite – I’ve read it at least 3 times over the years! Thank you, Laruie!

  14. Margaret Laing on April 22, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    This is all quite new to me — except for the name, which looks very much like the scroll (top or head) of my cello. Thanks for a new kind of inspiration!

  15. Pamela Gibson on April 22, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    At a local market that caters to Asian and Caribbean consumers, I usually recognize three out of four items. The rest send me home to research. Strangest so far were the vegetable hamsters, exactly the size and shape of hamsters, but no head or paws. They were a variety of taro, and tasted exactly like wallpaper paste. Today the Whole Foods had kalettes, but no fiddleheads. Ah well.

  16. frances wang on April 22, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I ate and enjoyed fiddle heads while visiting Quebec.
    I have not found them in my part of Maryland, not even
    in Asian markets.

  17. Susan Carnahan on April 23, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Glad to know there is a place near the Peninsula to get fiddleheads. We had them frequently when in Bhutan a few years ago, often in the buffet at all three meals. They were usually sautéed or stir fried, often with mild or hot spices. Laurie would love Bhutan, although I assume it was as closed to outsiders in the 20’s as Tibet, so it might be difficult to get Russell and Holmes there. But you could find a way!


  18. TheMadLibrarian on April 23, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    One of the delectable things to which I was introduced at a pottery firing at at Zen temple was ‘Food for the 40 Minor Gods’, or ‘ Buddha’s Delight’. It is a vegetable stew with miso, several varieties of root vegetables and at least 4 types of mushrooms. Imagine an inline wood kiln in the dead of night, sparks rocketing out of the vent every time someone shoves in another batch of logs, and a large vat of Buddha’s Delight staying warm nearby.

  19. barbara ristine on April 25, 2015 at 8:19 am

    We used to have an organic market here in Reno that sold all manner of exotic veggies, including fiddleheads. I don’t believe our local Whole Foods sells them. One of my favorite veggie dishes is roasted golden beets tossed with olive oil, feta cheese and mint.I know that the beets aren’t that unusual but the sweet golden variety can be challenging to find. I adore the Saturday Farmers Market and the Ferry Building. Whenever we go to the city, we always manage a visit to the food stalls. It reminds me of Reading Market in Philadelphia.
    Just finished Dreaming Spies and now I want to return to Oxford to spend more time wandering the city.

  20. Hope M. on May 12, 2015 at 10:24 am

    When I was growing up in Northwestern Ontario, my dad and uncles would go foraging through the swamps every spring and come home with tightly coiled, fuzzy fiddleheads and tender yellow cattail buds. We cooked them both simply: blanching the cattails and gently boiling the fiddleheads, then serving them with butter, salt, and lemon. Thank you for the delicious memory!

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