Tucked away on the edge of a bog, Nick Secord and his wife Nina, own and operate a fiddlehead farm; the largest fiddlehead farm in North America to be exact. So just how did Nick of NorCliff become ‘The Fiddlehead King’ right here in Niagara?
Such a remarkably obscure vegetable, fiddleheads are the furled frond of a young fern. Nick, a New Brunswick native, transplanted two hundred and fifty thousand ostrich ferns amidst the woodland lot of his Barrick Road location in the mid-nineteen-seventies. When the Agriculture board (and the neighbours) found out he was trying to re-zone swamp land into farmland “he was a laughing stock. They didn’t know what to make of it”, Nick said. But he knew fiddleheads love a good soaking.
He created a series of ponds with varying water levels. The highest pond being one and a half feet higher than the ponds below. When the spring thaw is approaching, Nick can pull a plug, letting go of the water in the higher pond and flood the land below to give the fiddleheads a healthy dose of water.
“I never meant to get into fiddleheads,” he chides, “a friend of mine asked me to do it, and that’s how it all started. Back then, people picked them by hand, washed them in the river and carried them back in burlap sacks.” Nick’s presentation to the Agricultural board to make fiddleheads a farm crop was the first of its kind.
If you’re thinking of foraging your local woodland, you have to know what you’re picking, for sure. Ferns can be deadly poisonous, the ostrich fern, rich in alpha lineolic acid, an essential fatty acid, is one of the only ferns edible for humans. When cooked the fiddleheads are rich sources of antioxidants, Omega 3 and 6, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, to name only a few.
On its best day, NorCliff’s staff hand picked and collected over forty thousand pounds of wild harvested fiddleheads, growing on the forest floor. This of course, was not only picked here in Niagara. NorCliff’s farmlands extend to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine, the Ottawa Valley and the Gaspe Coast, with the production plant being in Quebec.
Fiddleheads are not Nick’s only claim to fame. Nick is a self-made business man, who owns and runs multiple enterprises that have changed and evolved over the years, one such being a large blueberry operation, which has made deals with John F. Kennedy’s company in Maine.
Can you spot all the fiddleheads popping up out of the forest floor?[/caption]
NorCliff and it’s fiddleheads are becoming big business, which is remarkable considering they can only be picked for a mere six weeks out of the year. Sold wholesale only, find yourself some fiddleheads at the supermarket and you can bet your bottom dollar that they come from Norcliff Farm.
Recently, the company has discontinued its frozen product line due to such a high demand for fresh fiddleheads. You could say that fiddleheads are experiencing a type of cultural renaissance. Drink: a wine, beer and spirit blog, heralds fiddleheads as “the most highly sought after spring vegetable.” Nick proudly mentions that his fiddleheads were written about in articles, blogs and social media nineteen million times last year alone. “That’s more than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie combined!,” he says.
You can get as fancy as you want with your fiddlehead recipe, (there’s some great ones on NorCliff’s website from their annual culinary competition to support Toronto’s Children’s Charity), but I think one of the best ways is to just boil them for 10-12 minutes and put on a little salt and butter, or some bearnaise sauce. Tricky for wine pairing, word on the tweets is that the best complementary wine is Sauvignon Blanc, or a crisp Riesling.
I leave you with some fiddlehead cooking tips (Nina’s Recipe) from Kristen Garbutt of NorCliff Farms (shared by Reif Estate Winery). Enjoy the season!
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