My mother does not approve of swearing. Of even the most mild sort. My sister and I were not even allowed to say ‘shut up’ to each other without being sharply reprimanded. When my father used to say “what the hell?” in absent-minded consternation over some project he was attempting to repair, she would quickly remind him with his name or an exclamation of shock, that our young, innocent ears were in the vicinity. One of my very earliest memories when I was about 6 and my sister 4, was when we collected our first trial instruments from the London Suzuki Institute, Jennifer’s being the instrument she still plays hours daily as her profession and passion, and mine being the instrument I finally sold to help fund my own profession and passion.
As my mother, who had had to take a few lessons on each instrument first just so that she could help us at home, was attempting to make a sound from Jennifer’s strings (in front of both sets of grandparents, I might add, who were most interested in these new additions to the family) she became exasperated because no sound was emanating, and in her frustration she said her “F-word”: “Oh, FIDDLESTICKS!” without realizing how incredibly apt and timely this choice of ‘swear word’ actually was. (Although we laughed at her, it became even MORE apt when we realized the problem was in fact to do with the bow, or ‘fiddlestick’ – she had forgotten to resin it!)
Richard’s sons both took violin lessons for a while too, and we still have each of their instruments at Blue Belldon Farm, for some reason, but of course I’ve never owned another ‘cello (“violincello” is its proper name; thus the apostrophe in front of it each time is technically correct) since I was 18 and sold it to buy my first proper showjumper. Our father always got a kick out of saying that Jennifer was busy ‘FIDDLIN’ AROUND’ whilst I was outside just “HORSIN’ AROUND’. But the daily reminders of ‘fiddling’ are everywhere around us. As mentioned last week, the New Denmark ‘Music Ranch’ has a country band every Saturday night with Atlantic-based expert ‘fiddlers’ (although having been brought up on ‘proper classical music’ and the term ‘violin’, Mom and I don’t quite have the appreciation that we should have for the fast ‘fiddling’ that is a tradition in these Eastern provinces.)
But as soon as I came here last spring I began seeing and hearing the word ‘fiddle’ in another sense. Fiddleheads are everywhere! Plaster Rock, one of our nearest towns, is the Fiddlehead Capital of Canada, and being that our goal is to live self-sufficiently here, Mom/Joy gave us a book called Edible Plants of Atlantic Canada. The chapter that takes up the most pages is all about the picking and cooking of fiddleheads. They are highly celebrated here and other than the World Pond Hockey which was mentioned in last week’s blog, they are a main attraction to the area:
Fiddleheads are one of the first signs of spring, and since we had a bit of a thaw last week, and actually see some grass blades emerging in the Birch Grove and under the apple trees where the ground is slightly warmer because of the tree roots, we are perhaps prematurely, already getting excited about harvesting these delightful delicacies. Fiddleheads are essentially ferns before they become ferns. They are the furled up stage of a fern when they just start to shoot through the ground in early spring. As they emerge through the fertile, wet April soil, they grow and unfurl quickly, sometimes lasting just a few days in their furled-up stage.
Though all ferns have a fiddlehead stage, it’s the Ostrich fern that is most commonly eaten, and it tastes, when boiled and then sauteed in butter, very much like a combination between broccoli and asparagus. In the farmers’ markets, where they will only be sold for about 10 days, they can be quite pricey, so we definitely will be hunting the marshes and swamps for them ourselves!
Fiddleheads grow prolifically throughout the damp areas of the Eastern Seaboard. Though they are not hard to find, people tend to keep their locations secret so they will not be over -harvested. Scary thing, though. Some fiddleheads look like the Ostrich fern varieties and are not only not edible but can be toxic. So, just as I didn’t attempt to harvest the multitude of wonderful-looking mushrooms that sprouted all over our lawn last autumn, I am tentative about this process also.
In the book Mom gave us as a Christmas present, it mentions an interesting bit of folk lore: it was once believed that to eat fiddleheads would make one invisible! (Kind of ironic, given that the old Polaroid above DOES make us look nearly so!) Shakespeare even refers to this in Henry IV, Part 1 when he writes “We have the receipt of fern-seed; we walk invisible”. The “fern-seed” superstition pops up again in “The Fair Maid of the Inn,” a 17th century comedy by John Fletcher, et al., as well as in Ben Jonson’s “The New Inn.” A wonderfully-named fiddlehead cookbook , “Fiddleheads and Fairies”, by Nannette Richford, includes many references to the mysticism behind these succulent tasties.
A neighbour recently gave us a frozen bag of them to try. (Herein is a humourous example of rural life, especially among the proud Danish community. This lady’s husband was ill, so I made some extra chicken and vegetable soup for them, and sent it over in a thermos with Richard. He came back with home-baked coffeecake, a bar of marzipan and the aforementioned bag of frozen greens!) We ate them immediately for lunch, boiling for about 6 minutes as directed (just in case there are any dangerous toxins left in them!) and then frying with some butter and a touch of salt. Absolutely delicious!
I put a walnut in the one photo, to show you the size of them before cooking (although they don’t actually shrink in size as do so many vegetables, as you can see when put out on the plate at right.
That day must have had violins and decorative scrolls in the vibrational airways, because in the afternoon, in our Scrabble game, I could have TWICE put down variations of the word ‘violin’ (although nothing on the board ever did lend itself to my doing so!) And once while I was waiting the half-hour or so that is standard for Richard to take his bloody turn, I looked over to where one of his boys’ old violins (out of their cases to get humidity from our humidifier) was laid out near my beautiful hand-made butter dish by Ontario potter Natalie (from Remembrances Pottery , a friend who worked hard to make the Carlisle Country Craft and Old-fashioned Market Mercantile a success : https://www.etsy.com/shop/RemembrancesPottery ) How beautiful these ‘scrolls’ look side-by-side! And you can certainly see where the “Fiddlehead” delicacy gets its name!
Richard went to meet his brother where he lives in Saint John this past week, and they had a flying trip down to Cape Cod to look at some car parts his brother wanted. Richard noticed that the fiddlehead is a symbol of beauty throughout the province, as this sculpture in the city centre is a popular photo for tourists year-round as well . (That’s right, neither Saint John nor Boston/Cape Cod have snow anymore!)
So yes, while we’ve enjoyed the respite of the winter months to recuperate from the struggles of the big move out here, on top of the arduous efforts to plant, tend, harvest and preserve both garden and orchard, we ARE looking forward to spring! Mom/Joy is even more anxious than we are for it, as she just returned from her two weeks in Florida with her Aunt Jane, and was none-too-pleased to see those 8 foot banks of snow still along our back roads and caked on the cliff walls as we climbed up Lucy’s Gulch! She had brought back for us a T-shirt each with a happy stick figure on a lawn tractor, and this has definitely got Richard chomping the bit in anticipation of the first time he can fire up the ole John Deere.
It was his idea to wear the shirts with the snow outside the window in the background. The irony is actually a bit sad at this point, however! We harken back to last spring, the week before I moved out here, when my friend Leanne was visiting from Scotland. She’s coming again this summer, and Richard has promised her another try on the lawn tractor. (Although she’s a good ole country girl as well, who grew up on the 25,000 acre estate on which I worked with her in Aberdeenshire, in 2009, she had never had the opportunity to cut grass on a tractor, as all the bigger jobs on the estate were naturally done by the team of maintenance staff and groundskeepers! So she put up with the long-winded professorial lectures from my dear counterpart, and endured his shouting when her ‘track’ wasn’t perfectly aligned, or when she didn’t raise the mower at the right moment, and apparently she’s coming back for more of the same – only on the sides of mountainous hillsides this time!)
I look back now on this dreadful Ontario ‘flatness’, and just think how blissfully happy we are to be here, with our stellar and breath-taking views, away from the busy roads, (I remember waiting to snap the above shot so I could catch the moment with no cars whizzing by on the highway!) the pollution, the noise… But I DO miss being able to be out in the garden already, as I know some of you in Ontario are doing! My friend Anne in Carlisle thought it hilarious to send me the following. The chick is even wearing my hat and peasant skirt here!
That’s about the size of it here, too. We are desperate to get turning over some ground with the pitchfork and rototiller! Remember last spring, when I posted this cartoon, where Richard thought he was made to look old but I thought I looked JUST like the female graphic?
Well, I told him I wouldn’t do anymore ‘devilish’ comics with pitchforks in hand this year. So instead, I have done an artists’ rendering of the Canadian Gothic, complete with live-in mother:
And I even have the artist, in fields of gorgeous green, painting it on his canvas!
Surely Pippi can’t complain about this, as it’s his actual FACE? Anyway, the pitchfork is representative, not just of the devil and devilish qualities, but is of course exactly what it stands for – the act of ‘pitching something to the side’. So, although my mother detests swearing of any kind, and although my old co-“Katima-victim” Dave Landry taught me that “Fiddlesticks” is not the REAL “F-word”, I have taken it upon myself to tell winter to go
And stay tuned for next week, when we WILL begin planting, whether or not there is still snow out there (and there will be!). We ordered all our seeds yesterday (organic, with biodegradable packaging, from the same company as last year – Hawthorne Farm in Ontario), and Richard has made most of the seeding tables for our basement greenhouse. All that remains is to drive over the ‘wall’to Trumpty Dumbty-land, where we can buy flourescent lights much more cheaply than here, sadly, get them hung, get the earth into the tables, and voila! Seeds will be going in for our whole next year’s quality smorgasbording ! It’s nearly time! Dirt under the (non-existent) fingernails again! Wahoooooooooo!