Taming the Wild Cogollos

Taming the Wild Cogollos

3. Preparing the Straw

Simón brought the newly captured cogollos back to the village. We were all looking forward to another Five-Hour Hike Plus Rainforest Mud Challenge real soon. We decided to let the cogollos rest overnight. Wait. Maybe it was the gringos we decided to let rest overnight, not so much the cogollos.

Simón explained that the cogollos need to wait for three days before he could begin the straw-making process.

Always curious about the science behind everything, I asked Simón. “Why three days? Why not two days, or four days?

Simón gave this some serious thought for a full minute or two. Then he revealed, “Because three days is the right number. Not two or four.”

Well, okay, now I know. Not quite as scientific as I had hoped."

The cogollos were pretty docile, as far as I could tell. Not likely to put up much of a fight. The smart money was on Simón for this one.


First, he removes the thick outside leaf casing from the cogollo. He uses his thumbnails to peel open the tough covering, comprised of several overlapping…um, overlapping…leaf things. Yeah, leaf things. Technical term.

As he peels each segment of the covering loose from the more tender leaf shoots folded inside, he pulls it back and away from the cogollo. (below left)

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After the outer covering has been removed, Simón fans open the accordian-folded leaf shoot inside to verify its quality. (right)

The edges of each fold line are already less tender than the interior portions. So those edges must be removed, leaving only the very lightest colored, most tender parts.


Simón uses the tip of a deer antler to pierce the leaf shoots close to the folded edges. He then slices the tool along the edge, separating tough from tender.

He finds a spot about half way up, pokes and pierces, then extends his arm to slice along the edge to the end. Poke, pierce, slice. Poke, pierce, slice. Quick. Sure. Practiced.


As with the leaf casings, the tougher outer edges are peeled back toward the base of the stalk then pulled off.


The strands to the left and right of the cogollo he is working on are the outer edges that will be discarded. The choice center parts are laid back toward him into his lap and kept up off the ground to prevent damage. Look carefully, and you will see that Simón has organized his work into three stacks. To his right are the cogollos, stripped of their casings but still with the tougher outer edges of the fronds. To his left, closest to him are the discarded edges, farther away are the pale tender selected parts of the cogollos. (above, right, below right, below)


Toes are important. After all of the cogollos have been stripped of their outer casings and folded edges, Simón goes back through them, tucking the base of each stalk between his toes then separating the individual strands of tender leaflets. (below)


It is not fast work. Simón spends a couple of hours preparing the cogollos for the next stage.

Of course after all this they aren’t called cogollos any more. Now they are tallos. The tallos are bunched together in groups of four or five and tied with loops of plant fiber.

Chef Simón says they are properly cleaned and trussed, ready to be cooked in a Panama Hat Soup.

See Chef Simón cook Panama Hat Soup. NEXT PAGE

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4. Cooking the Straw go to

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