"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Natural Foods of the Season
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

If you live south of Indianapolis, this rite of spring may have already occurred, and it may be upon us in the central counties, and for the near future in the north. It being the emergence of wild asparagus, pokeweed, and a passal of other natural foods of the season.

It is a time for feasting on nature’s bounty at the best possible price: ZIP! That’s right. Just go out and get it. There are no licenses (the DNR may find a way to exploit it fiscally), no fees, just a little effort that is fun.

As I worked on my garden in Boone County yesterday (Sunday), the coolish day suggested that it was not a time for setting any kind of plant; better for seeking out wild asparagus at places where I knew they grew. Thus, with a few rows of seeds in the earth, I switched from gardening to hunting wild asparagus at the roadsides--or at least looking.

I found a few spears as I made the rounds of my mental maps; ranging in size from “thumb to matchsticks.” But not enough to really pull out all of the stops in culinary endeavor. This translates into “already up in the south, hot on the trail in central counties, and previews for the northern tier outdoorsers.”

It also translates into a number of great dishes from the range, the greates being my version of pan-fried rock bass (goggle-eye filets) with steamed and creamed asparagus-morel-chopped onion-cheese-sliced boiled egg. A salad and cornbread with creamery butter are not bad companions. If you make the salad hot wilted lettuce, you get an A+.
[Note: All of the recipes will be found on http://bayoubill.com. For asparagus, pokeweed, and other columns of the past, look up Recent Rambles of May 2005; for general goggle-eye fishing, go to Recent Rambles May 2004, and for frying fish, weekly column of 07-19-04. Space here will not allow those recipes.]

I think there also will be found in those old columns my recipe for creamed wild asparagus soup. It can, of course, be made from domesticated asparagus. 

I found no emergence of pokeweed Sunday, but it is due to pop through the earth at any time. It may be up in the south now and slightly delayed in central and northern counties. Incidentally, to locate new pokeweed growth search for the dead stalks from last year. They are cream-colored, an inch or more in diameter. They spring up from a tuber (root).

The berries and tubers are said to be poisonous. The spears are known as “poor man’s morel" in Southern Indiana (the tender shoots and leaves). Earlier this year an Arkansas reader told me of frying the pithy substance from poke stalks two to five feet tall. That procedure will be found in my column of January 21, 2008.

Nature produces many other edible plants in the spring (including a stunning array of greens), but another that forges a path to the forefront is the stinging nettle, which can be cooked many ways. I wear plastic gloves when I harvest the tender young top leaves and stems to thwart the itchy sensation.

Then there is the possibility of an Indiana version of ramps that rivals the edibility scale of our morels. The ramp, cooked and eaten in many scrumptious dishes of the Southeastern mountains, is a flat-leaf relative of wild onion, or leeks. 

Ramps are consumed for a very short time in the eastern mountains. It may be that a strain of ramp grows voluntarily here, and that it is edible. But I have never heard Hoosiers using it as food.

Several years ago, however, on a Boone County mushroom hunt, I encountered several people wildly harvesting the roadside leaves at ground level. They told me the leaves and stems were cooked with bacon or ham hock as greens. I think I wrote a column item on that subject. I cannot find that column now. 

BIRD BOOK--In the last week or 10 days we have been bombarded by the spring migration of the “Heinz Soup” family of warblers, but the leader of the pack, Myrtle, appears to have continued the trek northward. I have spotted several others--including the yellow--but I couldn’t get a positive identification.

Another bit of bird lore is that I've recently noted an obvious nest-building bluejay salvaging small pieces of white plastic bag for its nest (which I have not yet been able to locate)...very unusual material. In the past I  believed the jay used only twigs (lined with grass or mossy materials), but this adds a whole new wrinkle to jay nest material, if it is certain. 

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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