Smoky Mountain Poke Sallet Recipe.Preparation of the Southern delicacy, Poke sallet is not for the faint of heart.
Poke sallet, a long-time favored regional dish is actually made with the leaves of the poisonous pokeweed plant – and has proved popular with generations – primarily in Appalachia and the American South. The plant, despite its toxicity, has been enjoyed for centuries for those who know how to prepare it – and it does require knowledge to do it correctly.
The leaves must be boiled in water three times to cook out their toxins. Phytolacca Americana, also know as America pokeweed, pokeweed, poke sallet or dragon berries, is a poisonous herbaceous, perennial plant in the pokeweed family Phytolaccacae. When it sprouts in the early spring, the young plant’s leaves are at their least poisonous. The mature plant, can grow up to 10 ft. in height, and at maturity goes from a green to a purple color, increasing in toxicity as it grows. The colorful fruit, which begin life as tiny white buds before turning green and eventually purple, are also poisonous.
The term “poke salad” is a misnomer, according to an article in Wild Abundance. Even though that’s the traditional name of the common pokeweed dish, its actual name is poke sallet or poke salat. Poke has been eaten for generations by our European ancestors here in North America, and, in fact, the word sallet comes from an older form of English, and refers to something like a cooked salad.
Why eat it in the first place?
It is not a particularly pretty story according to Michael Twitty, a historian and Southern food expert. According to Twitty the plant was first used for a very practical purpose. Back in the olden days, many people were barefoot a lot of the time and often came into contact with animal feces, Twitty is quoted as saying. ”Most of our ancestors from the Depression backward were full of worms, so poke sallet acted as a vermifuge, a wormpurger.”
Despite this less – than – appealing fact, other people began searching out the greens as a way to feed their families in hard times. Nicole Taylor, chef and author of The Up–South Cookbook, calls poke sallet a “stretch food” citing the fact that it is the first fresh vegetable to grow in the early spring. Those folks, who relied on foraging to supplement the family meals, were quick to figure out what to eat and how to prepare it. The plant, sometimes known as Polk Salad as in the song, Polk Salad Annie, by Tony Joe White, mentions that fact. The lyrics chronicle Annie’s foraging to find food for her evening meal, “Everyday for supper time/ she’d go down by the truck patch/ and pick her a mess of poke salad.”
EXTREME CARE IS REQUIRED TO PREPARE THIS DISH
Handling pokeweed is fraught with pitfalls and requires caution. It can easily make you sick with symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and rapid heartbeat. Jean Weese, a professor and food safety specialist at Auburn University, was quoted as cautioning strongly against consumption of any amount of pokeweed, cooked or uncooked.
So although generations of mountain and southern residents have enjoyed this properly prepared noxious weed, perhaps it is better for those novices who are unfamiliar or unsure of the process to abstain.
SAFE PREPARATION OF POKE SALLET (POKE SALAD)
1 Place two pots of water on the stove and bring to a boil. One pot should be large enough to hold the harvested poke and the other at least three times that size
2 Coarsely chop the poke shoots
3 Add poke to boiling water in the small pot, stirring to submerge all the greens
4 Cook for about 2 minutes or until water returns to a boil
5 Drain greens in colander and return to small pot
6 Pour enough boiling water from the large pot over the greens and cook for two minutes.
7 Repeat steps 4 and 5 three times.
Add salt (and, if desired, bacon grease) to flavor
Information on natural edible plants
With renewed interest in foraging, you can learn to find pokeweed before it sprouts its noxious calling-card berries. For more information, check out The Foragers Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles, by Leda Meredith who provides a wealth of information about safely preparing Poke salad and other wild edibles.
Research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center cites research that indicates that raw pokeweed has medicinal properties that may help in the cure of herpes and HIV. While there are no clinical medicinal trials supporting the use of the cooked greens, generations of folks swear by its curative qualities.