"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Two Harbingers of Spring
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

It hasn’t happened yet in central and northern parts of the state, but two of my favorite “harbingers of spring” are about ready to pop. That translates into some great table fare.

The exciting emergences to which I refer are wild asparagus and pokeweed. Although neither of the two has poked up through the earth as this column is taking shape, both should bless the countryside with their presence before we meet again in this space. If my alarm clock is set a tad early, keep looking--patience will pay big dividends. 

Both plants are perennials, of course, and both feature tuberous-like root systems from which their new growth springs each year. Of the two, wild asparagus is by far the more difficult to find because it most often is surrounded by other weeds that start their growth earlier and hide the short, tender shoots. 

For this reason, it is wise to locate roadside clusters of wild asparagus in the fall and make maps of their location before destroying the old growth in an attempt to hide the location of the plant from others. However, those who have not mapped favorite clumps of asparagus in the fall, still can find the tender shoots of the plant by looking for old stalks that were not destroyed by other asparagus lovers or by winter weather. 

Once patches have been located, the tender spears can be harvested by cutting them at ground level, and waiting a few days for new growth. Eventually, though, the clusters of spears should be permitted to continue their growth to maturity to perpetuate the patch. 

Pokeweed also often is hidden by other weeds, but the old stalks from the previous year is far more durable than those of asparagus, and are easier to spot at this time of year. Poke stalks often are more than an inch in diameter and more than six feet tall. 

Poke is harvested by cutting off the shoots when they are two to six inches above the earth. Poke shoots may also be harvested several times without endangering the regenerative powers of the plant. Eventually, though, the plants should be permitted to mature. 

There are many ways to prepare wild asparagus and poke for the table, but generally applications for wild asparagus cookery follows lines for vegetables. Poke may be used in dishes of greens, but it can also be steamed to tenderness, dipped in a mix of egg and milk,  dredged in cracker crumbs or flour (or a mix of the two) and fried. Fried poke shoots are known in Southern Indiana as “the poor man’s morels” because they taste much the same. 

Additional information on cooking wild asparagus and poke shoots will be found by searching this web site.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

pokestalks.jpg (50752 bytes)
Poke shoots (note dark green new growth) will appear near old stalks (lighter colored dead growth)
Asparagus spears are harvested by cutting them off at ground level with a sharp knife . . . note stumps . .  . new spears will  appear in a few days.
asparagus3.jpg (55739 bytes)

NEW IKES BOOKLETS--The Izaak Walton League has released two publications intended to inspire, engage, and assist outdoor journalists to reacquaint themselves with the potentially explosive consequences for natural resources of human population growth. 

The first volume is, Population Growth and Outdoor America: Outdoor Writers' Perspectives, a collection of essays by five journalists on the effects of population growth on outdoor recreation.  The companion piece, An Outdoor Writer's Guide to Population Issues, gives background information and tips on writing stories about population growth and getting them published. The publications can be downloaded from the Izaak Walton League website at: 


Chuck Clayton, national president of the Ikes, says a number of outdoor writers have addressed this issue and done so admirably. “Yet, we believe that hunters, anglers and all outdoor recreation enthusiasts will understand more fully the consequences of human population growth on their pursuits when a broader spectrum of journalists start addressing the issue as a  matter of course,” said Clayton. 

“Every major threat to outdoor recreation—from climate change to hunting access, from habitat loss to dying fisheries—is, at its base, an issue about how people can continue to thrive while maintaining a livable world,” said Jim Baird, director of the League’s Sustainability Education Project.  He added that “it’s a problem that is real and a story we think outdoor journalists should embrace more aggressively.”

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

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