1. They mean that it's spring.
2. They provide an awesome excuse to spend time crawling around your local riverside, marsh, or wherever else you find ferns.
3. They are delicious.
Fiddleheads are baby ferns, still curled up into what looks like ... the head of a fiddle. They come out in early spring and are absolutely amazing gently steamed with lemon and butter. While you can sometimes get them in stores, you are way more badass if you find them yourself.
This fern is almost too far along for fiddleheads - only the smallest shoot at
the base of the plant is still good to eat.
There are a couple of important things to remember when harvesting fiddleheads. First off, they are only good to eat when they are still quite small. In the photo above, only that smallest shoot at the bottom is still small enough to eat - once the shoots start to unfurl and become leafy, you're too late. Secondly, only take one or two shoots from any given plant, to leave the plant healthy for future years.
This fern is younger - perfect size for harvesting.
Toronto has a number of extensive park systems where you can find fiddleheads in the spring. While I would never give away my secrets, I would suggest that you check out the ravines (the Humber ravine in the west and the Don Valley in the east), which provide great opportunities for careful foraging, especially as you move north out of the downtown core.
When you get your harvest home, rinse the fiddleheads and store them in a bowl of ice water until you are ready to use them. This keeps them crisp, and gives a chance for any dirt/bugs to separate from the shoots.
There are many ways to cook fiddleheads, but my favorite is very simple. Steam them for a few minutes, until they are tender-crisp. Steaming fiddleheads is a bit like steaming asparagus - it doesn't take long, and they get mushy very quickly. Serve them with butter (or butter substitute), lemon and a little bit of salt. Serve next to pretty much anything - I served them with garlic/leek/goat cheese scrambled eggs and rye bread, but they would go just as well as a side with dinner.
If anyone else out there has a favorite way to cook fiddleheads, or another favorite spring forage-able, I would love to hear about it.