I went to an editors’ conference in Vermont 40 years ago when at one of our evening banquets the vegetable on the menu was fiddleheads.

I had no idea what they were but people around me knew, and got excited.

“Fiddleheads,” a few exclaimed, as they read what was coming. It was spring, and they knew this special dish to be a delicacy served only rarely in restaurants.

The young shoots of ostrich ferns, as they come out of Mother Earth in spring, are curled on top like the head of a violin, hence the name. The curl lasts only a day or two, a brief annual window, before they straighten out and become inedible.

Restaurant owners know where fiddleheads grow in the wild and protect their location, not giving intruders knowledge where the patches of ostrich ferns grow. In spring they go out into the woods daily to keep watch. When the right time comes, they snip off the heads and bring them back to the kitchen. The restaurateurs have to be careful not to cut off too many heads because those left will overwinter and grow again next year. By the end of summer the ferns are three feet high with broad artistic leaves.

Our meal was served. There they were, a rare display of green violin-head-shaped forms smothered in an olive oil and butter mixture spiced with salt, pepper and garlic, beautiful greens on our plates.

I was at the conference as editor of Manitoba Moods, published three years in a row by Ed Schreyer’s Manitoba NDP government back in the 70s. Other delegates at the convention were editors of Beautiful BC and Arizona Highways, plus a dozen more colourful US state promotion magazines.

That was a rich time in my journalistic career, but like all things, it ended.

I have grown old, but still love telling my family stories in retirement about important events in my journalistic life. The fiddlehead tale is one of them.

My wife of 38 years had been with me at the conference, but she passed away in 2004. Life brings second chances at love if you’re lucky, and I was fortunate in finding my second act with Anne-Shirley Clough, a Ukrainian woman from Vita, Manitoba, who loves gardening. I moved into her house after we had been together several years.

Lo and behold, she had a patch of ostrich ferns in her yard. Did she know about fiddleheads?

Of course!

Her patch is small and produces barely enough fiddleheada for one serving each.

It’s a special spring day when Anne-Shirley serves fiddleheads for supper, picked from her patch, with Mozart’s violin concerto playing in the background.

And pure romance a la fiddlehead in the flickering candlelight of mature romance.–

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