Way way back in October 2010 I had my first taste of fiddlehead ferns and was smitten. The ones I ate then were frozen and had been imported, and just over 3 and half years later I had the pleasure of picking them on the banks of the mighty Miramichi river, near Doaktown in the centre of New Brunswick.
The fiddlehead is the curled fonds of a fern’s new shoots, so called as it has not yet unfurled and has an obvious resemblance to the head of a violin. It is not something that we are familiar with in the UK, although some fiddleheads are eaten in France, but they are mainly a North American dish, usually in season for a few short weeks in May, depending on the severity of the previous winter.
My guide was Lloyd Lyons, who has lived and worked on the river for over 47 years, guiding for Atlantic salmon and foraging for fiddleheads when they are in season. Fishing is in his blood, Lloyd’s father and his 5 brothers are all fishermen. Many new anglers have caught their first salmon under Lloyd’s guidance and expertise.
The season is short, but on a good day, with a lot of hard work ,you can gather about 100lb of young fiddleheads. They are easy to pick, the stems can be easily snapped, and once you have trained your eye they are easy to spot. Once picked the fiddleheads are prepared by dipping in the river to remove the papery brown covering and then are put into sacks under running water to clean.
Fiddleheads and Salmon – A Traditional New Brunswick Meal
I joined Chef Matt MacKenzie in his kitchen at the Ledges Inn to prepare a traditional and simple New Brunswick dish of salmon with fiddleheads. Matt told me that the fiddleheads are high in omegas 3 and 6, as well as iron. Preparation is simple, boil the fiddleheads, to kill any bacteria for three minutes, then pop into a bowl of iced water.
Flavourwise treat the fiddleheads like sprouts, think of earthy flavours – beets, lentils and mushrooms to pair them with. We rendered the pancetta, added lemon zest, rosemary, the fiddleheads, some butter, and roasted beets, served them on a bed of lentils braised with onion, celery and creme fraiche topped with a beautiful fillet of Canadian Atlantic salmon. Perfection.
The Ledges Inn, Doaktown, New Brunswick
The Miramichi, or ‘Chi, as it is also called in New Brunswick, is known world over, and is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world, with approximately 100,000 Atlantic salmon swimming up the river a year. The spring season is for just three short weeks, starting as soon as the ice has melted, around mid April, with the season recommencing in mid June through to fall.
The Ledges Inn is a top class fishing lodge on the banks of the river, with private stretch of river, the owners Everett and Caroline Taylor organise guides and boats so you get the most from your fishing. Out of the fishing season the lodge is idea for corporate events, hiking or snowmobiling. It is also an ideal resting place on a tour of New Brunswick, perfect to sit and watch the river from on a late spring evening.
Accomodation is comfortable, either in the main lodge or the annex, most rooms have a view of the river. The public areas are cosy and comfortable with open fires and warm stoves with views of the majestic Miramichi. Food from Matt’s kitchen is gourmet and served in the dining room with its views of the river.
It being Canada, everyone is charming and super friendly, after dinner I joined some of the staff for a game of washer toss on the lawn behind the lodge, the aim is to toss a disk into a ring in the center of a box, in theory easy, in practice somewhat harder.
Doaktown was first settled in 1807 as a lumber settlement. Despite the name it is really a village (the population in 2011 was just under 800), but with the vastness of Canada and low population density, the atmosphere is of a far larger community. There are still large timber plants and saw mills and I learnt that the term “log jam” is literal – the logs from the timber industry were transported by floating them along the river and would from time to time get jammed, Ed has just told me that the boats used to push the logs around are called Log Broncs – odd looking stubby reinforced boats, with their propeller encased in a cage.
The river in the center of town is crossed by the now unused railway bridge from the closed stretch of the Canada Eastern Railway, the houses are attractive and clad in weatherboards or built from logs.
The Ledges Inn
30 Ledges Inn Lane
1 -(877) 365-1820
Fuss Free Flavours visited Canada with The Canadian Tourism Commission & Tourism New Brunswick.