With hot fishing, wild turkey hunting, and foraging
for the elusive morel vying for the attention of Hoosier nimrods, the next
couple of weeks could be a smorgasbord of outdoors pleasure. Still, there
will be plenty of chance for failure, but not if the less fortunate dip
into the residuals offered by less-popular asparagus, pokeweed, stinging
nettle and a great variety of other natural foods.
That’s right, many of those who quest for turkey,
morels, or even fish, will fail in their primary assignments in the next
few weeks. And while they are in the process, they will have walked past
some real spring table delights.
Sure, at this time of year outdoors folks tend
to label mushroom and turkey hunting, and fishing for a variety of fish
species, as “TOP PRIORITY,” forgetting numerous less glitzy wild elements
of the countryside. And these unforgotten children of Mother Nature can
be tasty--not to mention nutritious--on the table.
There are literally dozens--probably more--of
these food items available (no license required) out there. Just go get
them and turn them into great dishes.
Enumerating even the more popular of these plants
would require much more space that this column can afford, but three of
the best candidates for this kind of “foraging” are wild
asparagus, pokeweed, and
Any one of the three will offer the prime ingredient
for a tasty and nutritious dish and they are no more difficult to prepare
for the table than plopping them into a saucepan and exposing them to heat
(enough water to avoid burning, and salt/pepper/butter to taste).
Here’s the way they stack up:
tasty plant (better wild than cultivated, I think) will be found along
country roadsides, especially very close to fences. Wild asparagus, perhaps
derived from the seeds of cultivated plants, is found most often at or
near fence lines because seeds of the plant are eaten by birds and deposited
as the bird sits on a fence.
Finding the tender “spears” of wild asparagus
is not an easy task because weeds tend to grow more rapidly--and earlier--than
asparagus at this time of year. Best way to keep track of wild asparagus
patches is to make maps of the locations in the fall when the plants (up
to four or five feet tall) turn light brown or tan and produce pink little
berries a little larger than BBs. In the absence of a map, look for last
year’s dried stalks (the lacy, frilly top parts of the plant will no longer
Any recipe for cultivated (store-bought) asparagus
will serve well for preparing wild asparagus. But if you would like my
favorite recipe, search “asparagus”
on this website (www.bayoubill.com).
will be found throughout Indiana and the Midwest. Fence rows are a good
bet, but it occurs in many other places, especially in areas that once
were occupied by buildings. Finding pokeweed shoots in high grass is easy
by simply looking for the weathered (cream colored) stalks from growth
of the previous year. Tubers of the plants produce new growth in the spring.
The roots, purple berries, and leaves of pokeweed
are said to be poisonous, but the tender shoots and leaves of the plant
in early stages after emergence are nutritious and delicious. Harvest this
plant when the shoots (somewhat like asparagus) are only a few inches tall.
Poke shoots parboiled, split in half lengthwise,
dipped in a mixture of egg and milk, coated with a fine mix of cracker
meal and flour, and fried golden brown are known to many Hoosiers as “The
Poor Man’s Morel.” They are that tasty. But both shoots and small,
tender leaves can be cooked with other greens (or alone) as a tasty dish.
–--Stinging nettle is the dark green weed that grows in moist, shady places,
especially along creek banks or in wooded areas. Later in the spring this
plant will live up to its name by causing an itchy sensation to skin to
exposed skin. But the leaves of this plant can be harvested (use plastic
or rubber gloves if you like) and handled as you would prepare spinach
or other greens for the table. Stinging nettle can be combined with other
greens or cooked by itself.
This website also offers information on harvesting
and cooking pokeweed and stinging nettle. But it is well to change the
cooking water of these and other wild greens one or twice while cooking.
Water changes tend to eliminate any toxic properties a plant might have.
SOME CALLS ILLEGAL--Wild
turkey hunter using calls made from the shell of a box turtle have been
told by the Department of Natural Resources that their calls are illegal
unless they were acquired before October 23, 2004.
Linnea Petercheff, an operations staff specialist
for the Division of Fish and Wildlife, says a state law that became effective
on that date provides that it is unlawful to possess a box turtle--or parts
thereof. The law also covers other reptiles.
“Shells have not been legal to collect from the
wild since October 23, 2004, Petercheff says. “We can issue special one-time
permits for shells that were collected prior to that date. Permits
cannot be issued for shells collected after that date, since they would
not have been legally collected. It is also not legal to sell the
shells of eastern box turtles in Indiana.”
To obtain an application form for a permit to
possess a legal shell, call Petercheff (317-233-6527).