FARMINGTON — Fiddleheads from the banks of the Sandy River have yet to make an appearance because of the late winter and cold spring.

But on Saturday, the third annual Maine Fiddlehead Festival went off without a hitch, drawing large crowds of all ages before people mostly dispersed by 2 p.m. when a rain shower arrived.

“We had a pretty good turnout today, but a lot of people are leaving,” Brenda York of Sandy River Farms said at 1:30 p.m. as temperatures flirted with 70 degrees.

York and her husband, Bussie, were educating people about local food and selling milk and whoopie pies made with chocolate milk.

Kimberly Trider-Grant of Field’s Edge Farm in Leeds, who taught a pressure canning class earlier, said many vendors left early because they had sold everything they had brought.

Besides highlighting ostrich fern fiddleheads, the festival celebrates local food and the opening of the summer season for the Yorks’ Sandy River Farmers Market.


Bussie York, however, said the ground was still too cold to plant crops.

“We need to get the ground warmed up to have a chance to germinate seeds,” he said. “Days like today will help, but the nights in the 40s are still too cold.”

He said the lack of warmth and cold nights were also affecting Western Maine fiddleheads.

“Right now, you can get enough for a meal, but not enough to sell,” he said. “It looks to be a week away if we have this kind of weather, unless we have another flood.”

Dave Fuller, a local fiddlehead expert from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, agreed that fiddleheads are at least a week away from emerging.

“It’s been a cold, cold spring and the fiddleheads have not responded well to that,” Fuller said.


Despite that, festival organizers brought in fiddleheads from southern Maine for cooking demonstrations.

“We had to really scramble to get them,” Fuller said. “And fortunately, we had someone in town here who had Sandy River fiddleheads that were frozen. They freeze well and they come back to life really well, so that was good.”

Fuller held two presentations, combining a slide show and talk about fiddleheads. He led people to a nearby spot to expound on how to identify the delectable ferns and other plants that grow near them, and how to sustainably harvest fiddleheads.

He said fiddleheads have a U-shaped groove on the inside of the stem, which is smooth, not hairy or furry, and a brown parchment-like cover that’s primarily on the sides until the fern starts unfurling and it falls off. The fertile frond, which also has a U-shaped groove in the stem, kind of looks like a feather.

Fuller said people should remove the cover before eating the fiddlehead.

“It comes off better when they’re dry,” he said. “You just kind of rub it and it falls right off.”


He said many people have likened the taste somewhat to asparagus.

“But you can’t put a definitive finger on what it tastes like,” Fuller said. “It does not, however, taste like chicken. So it’s got its own kind of taste. I tend to just boil mine and put salt, pepper and butter on them.”

He said fiddleheads, which are native to Maine and found across North America to Alaska and as far south as Virginia, are “a cool thing.”

“It’s an iconic spring green, even more iconic than dandelion greens,” Fuller said. “People find them more palatable. Dandelion greens are so bitter, a lot of people don’t want them. They don’t like them. But each to their own. They’re both nutritious.”

Fiddleheads from ostrich ferns are a good source of fiber, he said. They also have vitamin A and C, omega-3 fatty acids, which are not usually found in vegetables, and fiber and antioxidants, he said.

Fuller said he found two Friday and had them wrapped in plastic to show to people in his talks outside the Emery Community Arts Center, where demonstrations were held.

While Fuller waited to give his last fiddlehead talk-and-walk at 2:30 p.m., Cynthia Stancioff finished her presentation to a large crowd on Western Maine’s edible wild mushrooms.

Chris Knapp of the Koviashuvik Local Living School in Temple demonstrated to an equally big crowd how to make a rocket stove from a large metal paint can, a straight pipe, an elbow pipe and wood ash for an insulating ring. Using it, he cooked dandelion green fritters for people, including Fuller, to try.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.