Please don't make me eat fiddleheads. I realize that you're excited that the snow has finally melted (in most parts of Canada, anyway) and that something delicate and green is gently curling its way upward in the sunshine, replacing months of starchy potatoes and parsnips. But I don't want any fiddleheads, and for that matter, I don't want to eat most of what you call springtime's supposed "bounty."
Listen: It's not that I'm against eating with the seasons – it's how I shop (and sometimes grow) and what I cook and eat. I love just about every fruit and vegetable known to humankind – except for pears (it's a textural thing) – and I do tend to eat along with the seasons most of the year. (Did I mention I'm a cookbook author who develops vegetable-centric recipes for a living? Did I mention that most of my friends are vegetarian?) That said, you can keep the bulk of your springtime veggies for yourself.
Let me put it this way:
Rhubarb: Stringy. It's pretty enough when cooked properly, but often it's overly sweetened or too tart and usually cooked to the off-putting colour of bruised salmon.
Ramps: Hipster propaganda.
Asparagus: Stringy. (Though I go gaga over big fat spears of tender white asparagus. I was once in Germany during spargelsaison and never wanted it to end.)
Leeks: Super stringy.
Peas: Fine – they're perfection. However, they usually aren't available until June, so technically they don't count.
But let's get back to fiddleheads, perhaps the worst offender of them all. You know the saying "what grows together goes together"? In the case of fiddleheads, that means the swampy forest floor. Aficionados often describe the taste as a cross between asparagus, broccoli and spinach all rolled into one fern-shaped bite. I, however, find the taste is closer to boiled gym socks with a soupçon of sludge and lawn clippings. Plus, if you don't cook them properly they can make you physically ill. Of course, when you douse them in butter and salt, they're delicious – because they taste like butter and salt.
But the real problem with fiddleheads isn't even the taste. It's that, like ramps, fiddleheads are being over-foraged and their stomped-upon delicate ecosystems are being ruined for future generations.
A recent New York Times article recounts the tale of one life-long ramp forager who now had to travel much deeper into the woods, as the acres-wide patches of ramps that had long carpeted his favourite forests were becoming elusive. The reason? Hoards of new diggers who imagine the supply is unlimited were carting them out by the truckload. "Ramps grow wild in the woods from Georgia to Quebec," Indrani Sen wrote. "But since the early 1990s, the garlicky allium has gone from a Southern belle to a big-city starlet, with breathless articles in glossy magazines, top billing on restaurant menus and a paparazzi-like reception when the first crates arrive at farmers' markets in April."
In Quebec, the plant is listed as threatened and its sale has been banned since 1995. Similar bans were applied in 2004 in areas of North Carolina and Tennessee. Best to leave the ramps to the forests and bugs and animals, and instead buy local garlic and cook it up with better-tasting veg.
So what exactly would that be in May? Let's take a look at Foodland Ontario's availability guide to non-foraged spring vegetables.
It lists asparagus, carrots, greenhouse cucumbers, greenhouse lettuces, greenhouse peppers, greenhouse tomatoes, mushrooms, cooking onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach and rutabaga. Sounds a lot like winter, doesn't it?
But check out July, August, September and October – there's your real sweet spot, where a cornucopia of the country's finest is available to most.
I understand that in springtime everything seems fresh, dainty and new. I've been staring at my blooming crabapple tree out back for weeks now, and my lilac tree out front adds a spray of perfumed light to an otherwise ordinary day. I realize it's easy to be springtime smitten and follow the emerald-green siren song down that fiddlehead path.
Our modern field-to-table lives, however, are fraught with well-meaning yet disastrous turns. If you must, do enjoy these unique, fleeting ingredients at smart restaurants where the chefs understand the produce (or call up a farmer or elder home cook and let him or her teach you how it's done right). As for me, I can't wait for summer, where each day I will survive on little more than a dozen cobs of corn, tomato salad and five juicy peaches. Where summer is for food lovers, autumn is the true bounty season, and winter is for cocooning home cooks.
And spring? Spring is for suckers.
Amy Rosen is a food writer and the author of Toronto Cooks.