"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Fried Pokeweed Shoots Taste Better Than Okra Or Green Tomatoes
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

There is a new way to prepare pokeweed for the table, and it comes to Hoosiers via Arkansas where it is old hat. What is more, I am told that this dish tastes better than green-fried tomatoes or fried okra--that it is the tastiest application of any vegetable.

That’s a mouthful.

Our informant, who lives in Arkansas, is C. Wayne Lammers, an aficionado of this wonderful-tasting weed for many years and in the state where they know how to prepare and consume pokeweed.

To enlighten Hoosiers on the subject of cooking pokeweed, let’s let C. Wayne tell the story just as he told it to me in an e-mail (after reading one of my pokeweed stories on www.bayoubill.com):

“I really enjoyed your site and learned a lot, even though I have spent a lifetime in the woods and on the waters of America. I really liked your article on Fried Polk Shoots. I have never had them fixed that way before. “(Note: C. Wayne refers to my rendition of the story about Poor Man’s Morel.)

“In north Arkansas, the small leaves of early shoots are boiled and eaten in the early spring. Later comes the very best eating I have ever experienced.

“When the Polk Shoots grow two to five feet high and the stalks are tender and bend easily, the Hillbillies remove the leaves (which are often cooked like turnip greens) and cut the stalks into six to eight inch pieces. These are peeled with a small knife by grasping and pulling the outer layer off from either cut end.

“The white interior is then cut into small pieces, just like cutting young Okra for frying. This is washed, and dipped in a mixture of White Corn Meal and Flour at the rate of 50/50 and fried, usually in an iron skillet until nice and brown, just like fried Okra. It should be crisp.

“The taste is incredible! It tastes like a cross between fried Okra and fried Green Tomatoes and is so much better than either.

“After cleaning and cutting into small rounds like okra, it can be placed in a zip lock bag and frozen for several months without harm or loss of flavor. Just thaw it out and proceed as above. Many people in North Arkansas work until they have a full year's supply of the Polk Stalks in the freezer. They are especially good with a bowl of pinto beans cooked with smoked hog jowl, a cold wedge of purple onion and a hot slab of corn bread and plenty of real butter. Serve this up on a winter's night by the fireplace and you have something to stay with you until morning.

“Just thought I would pass this on to you. Please try it. You will throw rocks at every other vegetable you have ever eaten.”

The note on pokeweed from C. Wayne touched my interest quotient for several reasons, including the thought that out there in the hinterlands there must be many recipes, procedures, and habits (not just cooking, but life) that are interesting and beneficial.

For example, I have made and guzzled sassafras tea in the spring for more than 70 years. Yet, Scotty Wilson, of Paragon, IN, recently told me in an e-mail about making very good sassafras tea by starting with sugar maple sap, the liquid used to boil down to maple syrup. It’s a custom found thereabouts, and very tasty.

Scotty adds that he does not add any sweetner--the tea is sweet enough for him--but this is a possibility.

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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