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

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 as vegetables.

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 egg.

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 not pasty.

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 is concerned.

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 fattening.

 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.  

Bookmark us and stay in touch . . . come back for next month's new "Ramble," a regular feature of this website.

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All columns, stories, 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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