Bruce McEachern after packaging and boxing up his freshly picked fiddleheads that he does his wife Marlene McEachern before shipping them across the lower 48 states in Presque Isle on May 17. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A Presque Isle man has turned a favorite hobby into a seasonal business that has developed markets outside of Maine.

Bruce McEachern, who has been running his business McEachern Fiddleheads for 40 years, has been foraging edible ferns all of his life.

Fiddleheads, which are the unfurled fronds of the ostrich fern native to Maine and found along rivers and streams, are a popular springtime delicacy.

Thousands of people pick fiddleheads and some place them in coolers or other receptacles roadside with a container for customers to drop their money. McEachern’s operation has developed into more than that, thanks to social media. People heard of McEachern Fiddleheads from the business’ Facebook page that the couple created about five years ago.

Bruce McEachern shows his recent bundle of fiddleheads after one of his foraging trips in Presque Isle on May 8. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald

“When I got older I found that I could start a little business just selling them and see how it went as the years went by: Boom, boom, boom [my business] got larger,” McEachern said.

McEachern and his wife Marlene ship from 75 to 80 percent of their fiddleheads in boxes or packages to the lower 48 states including Florida and Oklahoma and a restaurant called the Press Room in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

Sometimes people living in other parts of Maine visit Aroostook to buy the ferns from  McEachern Fiddleheads. The business had recent customers who traveled from Wayne in Kennebec County to pick up approximately 85 pounds of McEachern’s Fiddleheads. The business also supplies local restaurants and has in past years sold the greens in grocery stores.

McEachern picks his fiddleheads along the Aroostook River or smaller brooks around Presque Isle. In 2019, he picked approximately 2,000 pounds of fiddleheads in 12 days, which was his biggest year, but he usually averages 100 pounds every couple of days.

McEachern has seen moose while out on his fiddlehead picking trips, but said that foraging wildlife such as moose, deer and bear don’t seem to eat the ferns.

Fiddleheads grow in clumps of five to seven shoots in temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees, but if it’s too cold or too hot the still-curled ferns will turn black and become inedible.

McEachern begins early in the morning to pick his fiddleheads. Once picked, they are dumped into a stainless steel mesh basket and rocked back and forth to remove the brown paperlike sheath referred to as chaff before being transferred into a cooler for storage.

After he picks a few buckets full, he takes them farther down the river to wash the rest of the papery brown chaff off them at the boat launch beside the Route 1 bridge.

“I try to pick clean going into my bucket before [the washing] stage,” McEachern said.

Fiddleheads can be refrigerated for a week and half, but can last a couple years in a freezer after being blanched — boiled in hot water — for seven to eight minutes until the fiddleheads turn a peak green color, McEachern said.

McEachern sells his fiddleheads locally for $4 per pound, but increases that to $7 per pound if he ships them to other states.

“By just looking at them, if you like any vegetable, the chances are it’ll probably encourage you to try them,” McEachern said. “Whether you end up liking them or not, well, that’s like opinion.”