"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Fried Pokeweed Shoots--The Poor Man's Morel
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres
04-22-02

"Morel  mushrooms come and go," he said lightly (as though his heart were not breaking at the lack of success--and fried morels--he had encountered). 

"Morels, or no morels," he continued, "pokeweeds are sending their tender, little shoots up through the earth now and I will dine on them without knowing the difference." 

So the make-believe, phony man addresses the hypothetical situation--this strange shortage of morels--and lands on one of his favorite foods, fried pokeweed shoots. 

It's the truth, it's actual, pokeweeds are, indeed, coming up now from one end of Indiana to the other, and they are awfully tasty when fixed just right--so tasty, indeed, that where I come from (good ol' Crothersville and environs) poke shoots are known as "the poor man's morel." 

To say that anything could possibly replace the morel in the minds of natural foods gastronomes would be sheer folly, if not heresy. But even in a year when I am finding all of the morels my diet can handle, I still like "a mess" of fried poke shoots now and then. 

One of the great features of collecting and processing poke shoots for the table, will be found in the fact that you don't have to look for them at this time of year. They look for you. 

Sure, they are only three or four inches high when they are at their tendermost best, but their presence will be telegraphed to the world by last year's cream-colored stalks (maybe with black splotching). Find the old stalks of a pokeweed patch from last year, and you will see the dark green shoots of this year's growth coming up from the old tubers (roots). 

With a sharp knife, cut the new shoots off at ground level. It doesn't take many to fill a skillet. Cutting off the new shoots will not discourage this plant. It still will grow as much as six to10 feet through the summer, produce its shiny purple berries (a source of ink in yesteryear), and continue a healthy existence. 

Trim or peel off loose leaves under cold, running water, then parboil the green shoots (somewhat like asparagus) until they can be pierced with a fork. A piece of bacon will add its special touch in the parboiling. 

When shoots are tender, drain off the water, feed the bacon to your 'coon dog, and allow the shoots to cool enough to handle them comfortably. Slice each shoot in half (lengthwise), then fry them just as you would have fixed the morels if your luck had been better. 

Morels and poke shoots can be prepared in many ways, but I will take my method of frying these delicacies over all others. It is simple.

Roll a good grade of crackers (I like Sunshine wheat crackers) as fine as you can get them in a sandwich bag with some solid, round object like a rolling pin or even a sturdy, round drinking glass. Mix the cracker meal 50-50 with flour on a dinner plate. In a shallow bowl (say a cereal bowl) break an egg or two, and beat them into an equal amount of milk. 

While the egg-milk mixture is being prepared, melt three or four tablespoons of butter in a skillet and stir in a little olive oil. The bottom of the skillet should be covered with a thin film of the butter-olive oil mixture. 

When a cracker crumb sizzles in the skillet, (moderate heat), dip poke shoots in the milk-egg mixture and roll each well in the cracker meal-flour mixture. Place each shoot on the bottom of the skillet (only one layer),  and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Pat them gently with a spatula to make sure each is exposed to cooking agent and heat. 

Turn shoots when brown on the first side. At this time you may want to add more butter and olive oil to make sure second sides are exposed to the cooking agent. 



A-TIP-OR-TWO--Treat each piece of poke shoot as you would treat morel halves to maintain their identity . . . Serve fried poke shoots with any foods compatible with fried morels . . . Gravy goes well with fried poke shoots, as does a thin coating of soft cheese (your choice), or a dusting of grated cheese . . . The empty skillet is a great place to make the gravy. 
 
 
Poke shoots on plate ready 
to be dipped and fried
Poke shoots frying 
in my old iron skillet

 


 
All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the Scifres Family.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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