Over the years a goodly share of the reports on
my ramblings have been based on episodes involving rod or gun, but the
culmination for most of these outings occurs in the kitchen.
Thus, when the wheels of my calendar started showing
high double digits, I thought it was high time that I acted accordingly.
For many years I cooked pokeweed and asparagus
under the homespun theory that there were tried-and-true procedures for
cooking these delightful potherbs, and that you didn’t try to get cute
with other applications.
Backwoods protocol seemed to dictate that you
parboil and fry poke shoots, you steam or boil the tender, young leaves
of poke as “greens,” and you steam asparagus to tenderness and cream it.
Of course, these delicious products of Mother Nature always are served
How shallow can this kind of thinking be?
With this thought in mind, when I returned home
one day last week with a small bundle of wild asparagus, my thoughts ranged
to the tried-and-true procedure of steaming the spears to tenderness with
some onion slices and mushrooms, and turning them into my famous creamed
dish which is topped with melted cheese (shredded cheddar suits me to the
proverbial “T,” but any cheese will fill the bill), and slices of hard-boiled
I must say that this is not a bad way to go, especially
when combined with fried goggle-eye filets, a fresh garden salad, and a
pan of cornbread made even better with real, country butter.
But wait a minute, I told myself, why not do something
a little different this time . . . How about creamed wild asparagus soup?
Why not?, I thought.
I hied off to the garage freezer, found and thawed
a pint container of homemade chicken broth, poured it in a small sauce
pan, and placed the one-inch sections of the asparagus spears in the broth
with half a finely-chopped onion and two kinds of dried mushrooms (I used
hen-of-the-woods and shaggymane, but any mushroom--wild or cultivated,
frozen or fresh--will be fine). Since asparagus tips tenderize before their
stems, I saved them until the stems were showing signs of tenderness (I
test the asparagus with a sharp-pointed knife).
(Note: Onion and mushrooms require more cooking
than the asparagus, so I start them cooking before putting the asparagus
in the stock).
The rest was easy.
When the asparagus was tender, but still had retained
its identity, I drained the mixture and saved the broth.
With four tablespoons (this can vary at the pleasure
of the cook) of the broth in the saucepan, not on the stove burner, I stirred
in enough flour to create a lumpy paste, and added a little more of the
stock to thin it. Then, with the pan again on medium heat, I slowly stirred
in three cups of half-and-half to thicken it to a consistency I desired.
I figure creamed soups should be thicker than broth soups, but certainly
At this point, I turned down the heat, covered
the pan, and allowed the soup pot to steep (steam without boiling) for
half an hour.
(Note: Leftover creamed soup stored in a frig
may thicken, but if it doesn’t revert to the desired consistency of soup,
more milk can be added as the cold soup is reheated.)
Now, more on those poke shoots.
But before going into more detail, a Marion reader
of earlier columns on this subject points out that roots and berries of
pokeweed are poisonous, and that my writing on poke shoots should point
that out. So if you are planning to eat poke shoots, the tender spring
growth (including leaves that also is used in dishes of greens), avoid
the berries in the fall and the roots of the plant any time so far as food
Although our cold nights of late April and early
May appear to have set the growth of pokeweed back this year, the tender
young shoots of the plant will undoubtedly respond to warmer days. And
when poke shoots are up, I am planning a pot of cream of poke shoot soup
that will be prepared by the same procedures that turned out such a delightful
pot of cream of wild asparagus soup.
As I have noted in the past, the tender leaves
of poke shoots--not to mention the shoots--can be combined with the early,
tender leaves and stems of dandelion, curly dock, pigweed, stinging nettle
and numerous other plants to create a tasty and nutritious dish of greens.
If there is a suspicion that some of these plants
could host some mildly toxic properties, it is well to change water used
for cooking two or three times. The last water can well be broth of chicken
or beef for flavor.
Although canned broth will do the job, homemade
broth is considerably more flavorful, not to mention considerably more
May, of course, offers many other opportunities
for harvesting the prime ingredients of other dishes. May, for example,
is the month of the goggle-eye (rock bass, also known as the red-eye),
not to mention the fact that wild strawberries will ripen about Memorial
Day . . . a bit earlier in Southern Indiana.
Being a big fan of both of both goggles and the
little scarlet gems, this reporter as has written voluminously on these
subjects over the years and much of this will be found on this website.
Just use the search engine on
“wild strawberries,” or “goggle-eyes,” and it will pop up like a jack-in-the-box.
But in case there still are doubts about where
to find either, our southern Blue River (south of Fredericksburg to the
Ohio River) is Indiana’s best goggle-eye stream.
Perhaps we will meet there this month . . . and
plan a ramble to the kitchen.