The Feisty Forager: Poke Sallet
March Madness — Day 23
Poke sallet (Phytolacca americana) has long been a staple in the Appalachian South. As Southern Foodways Alliance member Joe York says, it’s free and you don’t even have to plant it or weed it. “Some people can’t live without it once they’ve tasted it.”
In 1968 Tony Joe White wrote and recorded “Poke Salad Annie”, which was later covered by Elvis, and featured some spectacular moves and classic Elvis expressions that make you want to go out and gather a mess this instant:
Every day for supper time, she’d go down by the truck patch
And pick her a mess of poke salad, and carry it home in a tow sack
Polk salad Annie, the ’gators got your granny
Everybody says it was a shame
’Cause her momma was a-workin’ on the chain gang
If you’d like to experiment, here’s what to do.
Pailful of young poke leaves
Lots of salted water
A couple of tablespoons of bacon fat
Wash and parboil the poke leaves, making sure no stems or berries have fallen into the bucket. Pour off the water and parboil a second and (optionally) third time to be certain that any toxins have been removed. (If you have gathered young leaves without a trace of purple, you are probably safe from any serious toxicity.)
Strain and sauté in bacon fat, and serve alongside chicken or pork, and mashed potatoes. Top, if you are lucky enough to have them, with sautéed ramps.
This article is one of a month-long series of foraged treasures. For more recipes from the field and forest, check out Appalachian Appetite: Recipes from the Heart of America.