"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Smorgasbord Of Outdoors Pleasure
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

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 (gasp!) stinging nettle.

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:

WILD ASPARAGUS--This 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 be there). 

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).

POKEWEED--Pokeweed 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 –--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). 

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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