Wild Edibles: Fiddlehead greens

Spring is off to a bit of a slow start this year which means you may not have missed your chance for a tasty spring time delicacy, the Fiddlehead.

Fiddlehead greens

Fiddlehead greens

Fiddlehead greens are the tightly curled, young shoots of the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).  They first appear from late April to early May, depending on your location and weather.  Look for them in moist or wet soils, especially along the banks of creeks, rivers and swamps, throughout Ontario, the Maritime provinces and Northeastern United States.  Other varieties in your area may be toxic, so get to known your plants!

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When harvesting, choose Fiddleheads that are no more than 6-8inches tall, beyond that they begin to get tough/fibrous and lose their delicate flavour.  Cut plants close to the ground and take only a couple from each plant (clump of Fiddleheads) to allow the plant to continue producing.  Remove the brown skin, if present, and boil in one change of water until tender.  Serve with butter.IMG_1738

So if you need another great reason to try spring camping besides avoiding the crowds and the bugs here it is – first dibs on a true delicacy.  I picked these along a beaver dam  just south of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, at the end of April last year.  They were delicious, nutritious and free!

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:

  • harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
  • when in doubt ask an expert in the area
  • Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
  • Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
  • Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
  • Harvest only when/where abundant
  • Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection
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Snowshoeing in Toronto

With 25cm (10″) of snow arriving late last week it was time to drag my snowshoes out of storage.  With so much snow in town and the roads a mess it wasn’t even worth renting a car to head north in search of trails to hike.  Luckily Toronto has a huge green belt running right through it, so I threw on some layers, grabbed my snowshoes and took the bus to Wilket Creek Park at Leslie and Eglinton to get started.

I took a pile of these shots, where long shadows and high contrast kept catching my eye.  You can make out some of the tracks from squirrels, mice and other little critters that dot the snow.

Long shadows in the snow while snowshoeing

I am amazed that, despite being surrounded by 6 million other people in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), I appear to be the only one who thought to venture into the trails last Saturday morning.  I had the place to myself!

I followed the mountain bike trails south, through the woods, often high above Wilket Creek.  The trail offers some wonderful views of the park.  This trail comes to an end where the creek goes under the park’s service road (as you approach Don Mills Rd).  Although, if you’d care to double the distance, you can easily continue all the way down to Pottery Rd.  I turned around at this point, returning along the other side of the creek, through the open spaces adjacent to the paved Don Trail.

A coyote crosses a foot bridge and heads up the trail...

A coyote crosses a foot bridge and heads up the trail…

I did eventually pass a few cross-country skiers, but the cold temperatures early Saturday morning (-20C/-4F) must have kept most outdoor enthusiasts at home.

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My travels take me past a spot that most Torontonians will find hard to believe is right in the middle of town.  This pond sits right behind the Ontario Science Centre, and just a few hundred meters from one of the busiest intersections in town.  You feel as though you are out in the middle of no where.  The sounds of the city are absent.  I sit and enjoy the moment over a cup of hot tea that I’ve packed in a thermos.  The silence is broken finally as a snowy owl whistles overhead.  That was my first snowy owl sighting ever!  I didn’t realize that their range extended so far south.  Sorry, no chance to get a picture.IMG_4651

With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, a bent twig and a low light angle offered a perfectly cheesy shot that I couldn’t resist.

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Here’s what the 5km route looks like in case you’d like to try it out, or for a map that you can zoom in on, click on this link:  http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5818400

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Looks can be deceiving though.  There isn’t a straight line to be had through the woods.  The trail cuts back and forth a number of times and there are a quite a few climbs.  Cutting fresh tracks through the mountain bike trails in these conditions is slow going and lots of work.  Expect this 5k route to take at least 2.5 hours.

Bring a friend and have fun.