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Article

Wild Spring Delicacies

How to choose, store, and cook with morels, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns

Fine Cooking Issue 85
Photos: Scott Phillips
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People who live in wintry climates look forward to spring for obvious reasons, but for food-lovers, there’s an added bonus: fresh ramps, morels, and fiddleheads. These spring treats are at their prime for only a few weeks a year, and they can be difficult to find because they’re not grown commercially, at least not extensively. Instead, they’re usually gathered in the wild by foragers.

You may have some of these delicacies growing in your own neck of the woods, but before you forage, be sure you know exactly what you’re looking for—there are inedible look-alikes out there, and some are poisonous. To be on the safe side, bring along a seasoned forager to help with identification, or forget foraging altogether and just buy them from a reputable source. If you can’t find them locally, you can mail order them at Earthy.com.

Morels

These conical honeycombed mushrooms are treasured for their rich, intense flavor and are delicious when simply sautéed in butter. Enjoy them on their own, or top roasted or grilled meats and poultry with them.
Store fresh morels in a brown paper bag in the fridge and use them within a few days. They’re often home to little critters, so before cooking, cut them in half and examine their chambers, flicking out any unwanted guests. Unless they’re extremely dirty, don’t wash morels; just brush them off with a damp towel.

Fiddlehead ferns

Fiddlehead fern fronds emerge from the soil coiled into tight pinwheels and are edible only before they begin to unfurl into their mature form. They have a grassy-earthy flavor that’s tasty in a mushrom ragoût or a mixed vegetable sauté.
Store fiddleheads in the refrigerator in a zip-top plastic bag lined with moist paper towels for three to five days. To clean them, rub off the brown chaff from the outside (some stores may have done this for you) and wash them thoroughly in cold water. Before cooking, trim the ends and then tame their slight bitterness by blanching briefly in salted boiling water before sautéing or grilling them.

Ramps

Part of the onion family, ramps taste like a cross between spring onions and scallions, with an earthy-garlicky undertone. Also known as wild leeks, they’re good in everything from scrambled eggs to stir-fries. Try baking fish on a bed of ramp leaves, and sauté the ramp stems and bulbs to pile on top.
Store freshly picked, uncleaned ramps at room temperature with the bulbs submerged in water, like a bouquet. Use before the leaves start to wilt, in about three days.
To clean ramps, rinse, remove the roots, and peel off the paper-thin coating over the bulb. Once you’ve done this, the entire ramp is edible. To store cleaned ramps, wrap them loosely in moist paper towels, seal in a zip-top bag, and store in the refrigerator; they’ll keep for about five days.

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