My life is fairly straightforward.
I work. I write. I have fun with friends and family. I bike. I hike. I meet nice people while walking the dog.
Vicki Doudera here, happy to report that, for the most part, my days pass pretty smoothly. The fictional lives I create in my books are full of quirks and wrinkles, but my day-to-day journey, thank goodness, is more vanilla than rocky road.
Until yesterday, when I ingested a toxin for lunch.
The funny thing – make that, one of the funny things – is that I watched a NOVA episode last week called Venom: Nature’s Killer, and I got so excited about box jellyfish and many-banded kraits (timid snakes packing neurotoxins so deadly they’re among the most poisonous land species in the world) that I scribbled out two pages of notes. I went to bed with crime scenarios flitting through my head, and the thought that, other than the rare and very shy brown recluse
(a non-native spider occasionally found in Maine) we have little to fear, toxin-wise, in the Pine Tree State.
The second funny thing is that I have been on an “eat lots of veggies” kick, because a friend told me about a new diet she’s following, and I assume that vegetables virtually line the path to good health.
Irony number three is that when I purchased the toxic item (which by now you should know is something green) I thought, “Hey, this would make a good blog post,” never dreaming what kind of a post I’d end up struggling to write, in between bolting to the bathroom.
Here’s your final clue. Ready? The culprit is a seasonal Maine delicacy, something I’ve enjoyed in restaurants but have never – until yesterday – cooked myself. Within thirty minutes of preparing and eating a portion of this mysterious “treat,” I fell prey to violent intestinal distress that lasted nine or so very long hours.
My nemeses? Fiddleheads.
That’s the nickname for the tightly curled fronds of the ostrich fern, found by the banks of rivers or
streams and foraged by many an enterprising Mainer. Take a look. They look as innocent as the day they pushed up from the spring ground, right?
I had never heard of them until I moved to Maine twenty-seven years ago, although I suspect they are now on the menus of upscale restaurants throughout New England and beyond.
Locally sourced. Rare. Deadly.
Okay, maybe that’s going too far (unless you know something I don’t by the time this is published) but in my opinion fiddleheads are definitely poisonous – at least to those who eat them sautéed in garlic.
The University of Maine’s Bulletin 4198, Facts on Fiddleheads, explains how to identify the tender shoots and mentions “a number of outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of raw or lightly cooked fiddleheads.”
The described symptoms of this foodborne illness were diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headaches. These symptoms generally occur within 30 minutes to 12 hours after eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads. This foodborne illness typically lasts less than 24 hours, but it was found that some cases could last up to three days.
It could be worse, way worse – I know that from my night with NOVA. And yet, as I write this, still suffering the effects from what some call “fiddlehead fever,” I know it will be a long while before I eat another ostrich fern.
And if I do, I can assure you – it will have been boiled nearly to death.