First of all –
I want us to pause and acknowledge that I just coined the term fernie sanders to describe these little green cuties. (#ferniesanders) (crowd chanting: fernie, fernie, fernie….)
Now, on to business –
Make sure what you have found are indeed fiddlehead ferns. (plant ID book, tried and true spot, knowledgable friend, etc) They are best harvested when they are young and tightly curled, in the early spring. There is a bit of a window, a month or so, as each fern plant sends up many fern leaves in succession. Don’t bother with ones that are larger longer or starting to uncurl and leaf out. Also, do not cut too many shoots from any one plant. Scissors and a bag will do you well as you move kneeling through the ferns.
Eating / Preserving –
Trim the base of the stalk, freshening the cut. Blanch them — bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, turn it off, and toss in the curls. Give em 30 seconds before removing them quickly to a cold water bath for a minute or so. At this point, they are ready to cook and eat (cook em as you would green beans or other similarly sized morsels). Or, preserve them for later use. There are many ways to do this. I used a 4-1 water to apple cider vinegar ratio, with some whole black peppercorns thrown in. The jars were filled to the tippy-top with the pickling solution, which was just boiled hot, and then capped and flipped upside down to cool. This neat trick creates a seal as would a proper canning process. I prefer Lactofermentation whenever possible when preserving, but in this case I figured they would come out too soft and slimy. Vinegar pickling tends to yield a crisper result. Let em cool overnight and then store in a cool dark place or a fridge.
Goal for next year –
Transplanting some of these lil fernie sanders before they leaf out next spring, and trying to propagate some new groves for future harvest.