I came home late from work last week and as I pulled into the garage, my husband, who was in charge of dinner that night, greeted me with, “Come see what a surprise I have for you.” On the stove ready to be cooked was a batch of small green vegetables curled just like the top of a violin. Yes, indeed – fiddleheads. He had driven past a greenhouse in Scarborough that had a sign advertising the delicacies. He stopped his truck, turned around and promptly bought a batch.

We both remembered having these when we grew up in central Maine. Herbie Green, the local police chief, a man as large in personality as he was in stature, was famous for his mustard pickles (which always won first place at the Piscataquis County Fair) and for his secret fiddlehead sites. He would never take you to the location, but was generous giving them away. Every spring he would drop off a large batch for my mom. My dad probably took something off his medical bill.

Mom always told the story of my brother Mark’s birth. He was born on May 24. Chief Green had just given her his annual gift when she went into labor. Supposedly, she stood by the sink cleaning and blanching fiddleheads for the freezer as she timed her labor pains. She wanted to get that batch of greens safely put away before going to the hospital.

One spring, I brought my Colby College roommate home for dinner. My dad had just been fishing on the West Branch and so my mom served, to us, a very gourmet meal: brook trout rolled in cornmeal and fried in bacon fat with a huge bunch of fiddleheads. Now my roommate hailed from Greenwich, Conn., with stops in Switzerland. Needless to say, this was not a familiar meal to her. Years after she told the story about how she ate fish with the heads on, complemented with weeds covered with butter and vinegar.

My cousin from Aroostook County married a girl from Virginia. She had never heard of fiddleheads, but she knew he liked them. She found some at a farmers market in Boston, where they were living, and was very excited to cook them for him. She boiled them within an inch of their lives and was so surprised that he was not as excited as she.

In our house, you clean them and steam them just till tender. There’s a fine line between crisp and mushy. Then serve them with butter, pepper and salt, and a sprinkle of vinegar. The first fiddleheads mean that winter is really over (though this year, I’m still not sure as we had hail last week). It means that the ice will leave the lake, that the snow is finally out of the woods and that summer must be right around the corner.

Now if I can just find a batch of dandelion greens cooked with salt pork, I really will be in heaven.

— Special to the Telegram

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