Since ferns are one of our ubiquitous wild foods that have at last reached big-city grocers, it is now worth discovering how to prepare them. Fiddleheads or fiddlenecks refer to young fern fronds, still curled in the fetal position, cut from any number of edible ferns, such as the ostrich, cinnamon, hay-scented, or evergreen. The Samish liked to roast the stems and rhizomes of pasture brake fern or western bracken, after which they would pound them into flour to make ash-baked bread. If the fiddleheads are really fetal, you needn’t cook them at all, but simply chop them for a salad or use as a garnish for other foods. I like to serve them whole, however, and to cook them slightly, to avoid bitterness, treating them as if they were a green like spinach, dandelion leaves, or broccoli rabe.
Blanch the ferns in boiling salted water to cover for about 4 minutes. Drain them well. Fry the bacon strips in a wok or large skillet. Remove them when crisp and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but
© 1986 Betty Fussell. All rights reserved.