If you haven’t spent time outside foraging in Alaska, you are missing out not only on an abundance of free food, but also a unique experience to connect with nature and yourself.
Springtime in Alaska is the beginning of foraging season for me. What comes first is the fiddlehead ferns. There are many things to forage in an Alaska spring, like devils club roots and nettles, however, in the last several years I’ve spent my springs looking for fiddlehead ferns and morel mushrooms.
Fiddlehead ferns can be found so many places. I saw some in the backyard at my boyfriend’s parents’ house. I pick mine at a well-known park in Anchorage. When they are ready, the ferns shoot up straight and are furled into a tight circle. As they grow, they unfurl until the fern is totally released. When foraging for fiddleheads, it’s important to know when to pick. You need to get them when they are still tightly wound and close to the ground. An unfurled fiddlehead fern is poisonous.
The ferns taste like asparagus and go well with things like eggs and cheese and butter (what doesn’t?). The first time I had fiddlehead ferns I incorporated them into a quiche. So good. But with moving back to Anchorage and starting my new job, on top of trying to get by in the middle of a pandemic and general social and political unrest, my willingness to make an elaborate quiche just wasn’t there this spring. I opted for something easier, more simple and accessible. I just sautéed them in some butter and garlic and added some Parmesan cheese and ate it as a side dish.
The fiddleheads are mostly unfurled now. The season went by in a flash this year. But the small baggie I gathered last week will hopefully kick off a summer of gathering. This week we are looking for morel mushrooms and picking rhubarb. This month, I hope to see the wild roses bloom and use their petals to add a twist to cocktails and desserts. This month we’re also going to see lilacs bloom. I’m hoping to experiment with those petals too. In July and August we will hopefully see lots of berries. My favorite thing to forage by far.
If you can’t forage or are worried about picking the wrong thing, check out farmers markets. Many people might be growing or selling Alaska ingredients to inspire your next meal.
Victoria Petersen is an amateur home cook who strives to make recipes accessible and as locally sourced as possible. She previously wrote the column from her spacious kitchen off of K-Beach Road, but is now working from a small apartment in Anchorage. However, she makes sure to regularly visit friends and family on the Kenai — especially for foraging and fishing.