Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes Appalachian Dialect

Appalachia Through My Eyes – A Poke = A Paper Bag

My life in appalachia pokes and bags

I’m sure all of you know what a poke is-it’s a paper bag. I still hear old timers use the word poke in my neck of the woods and a few not so old timers. Example: “Get you a poke off the porch there and go pick you a mess of beans to take home with you.”

Not many stores use paper bags these days, but when one comes my way I hoard it like a precious jewel. Who ever thought I’d grow up to see pokes as a priceless commodity?

The Deer Hunter hates those flimsy plastic bags because they tear so easily. I know you can take your own reusable bags to the store, but somehow I’m not that on top of things. At least the stores here do have a recycling bin for when your collection of plastic bags begins to take over.

We use pokes to cover text books, to start fires, to wrap gifts, to line the paths of the garden as a weed deterrent, to carry things from one place to another and as you can see from the photo, sometimes we use them to conceal ourselves in public, well not really only silly teenage girls do that.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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  • Reply
    January 16, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Yes the plastic bags do tare easy. I use them for my small waste baskets. I remember as a kid we said poke for brown paper bags and we also said Dope for a Pepsi or some kind of drink. That brought back good memories Tipper.

  • Reply
    Steve Baker
    May 15, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    I love it! All brown paper bags were “pokes”. Then came the “plastic pokes” which never stuck with me. It had to be paper to be a poke in my Appalachian Opinion. We had “pig pokes” which were the brown paper bags we got from Piggly Wiggly. They were the most highly prized! Pokes were a valuable commodity for tons of tasks in and outside the house, many of which were mentioned in the article.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 24, 2019 at 10:57 am

    So much fun to “poke” fun at our “poke” n’ paper bag experiences…
    I always loved this post…
    Thanks Tipper,
    Cold here with a “skiff” of snow and occasional “spit”…

  • Reply
    Lois Tootle
    July 30, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    In rural southwest Virginia it was common for people to refer to the liquor store as the poke store as they used paper bags for all purchases. I assume it is the one place that still always uses them?

  • Reply
    February 12, 2014 at 7:35 am

    In my house, if you are wearing a paper bag (poke) over your head, it means that you are being punished, as my two girls can certainly attest to.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Lola-thank you for the great comment! I havent heard trade used like that-but I have read it in a book : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    January 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

    The poke berries are poison, not the greens!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    January 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    We have a friend with a many chaptered career. During his phase of piloting private jets, he had a trip out to Las Vegas. The closer he got to the desert the more something started to disturb his vision. It turned out to be hundreds and hundreds of plastic shopping bags blowing around like tumbleweeds! Moral of the story-properly dispose of all those plastic pokes!

  • Reply
    Lola Howard
    January 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    I grew up hearing the word Poke ,didn’t know the difference ,until I left home and got stared at a few times for saying “poke”.
    Now tell me have you ever heard the word ‘trade ” instead of shopping?
    I heard that word too,”you’d go to town to trade”,when you would go to get groceries.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 27, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Have you ever been in a convenience store and seen someone buying those big cans of beer. The clerk almost always puts them in a paper bag. I didn’t ask why but I’m presuming it’s so the customer can drink them on the way home. A cop who sees them drinking from a paper bag is going to think it is Pepsi in there, right?

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    I had never heard poke until I moved to TN. In PA and WV, both very much Appalachia, I never hear it used that way…I try to use it some as I learned it in TN, but most people sort of look at me funny

  • Reply
    Mary Hudson
    January 27, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    My grandmother who was born in the Ozarks of southern Missouri also used the word poke for a paper bag. Thank you for your entertaining and educational blog!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 27, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    My parents used the word poke all the time.If it was bigger it was a sack. We keep every paper poke we can get. When we go to Blairsville and eat at Rib Country they use paper pokes as place mats and also for the kids to color on. I always end up drawing on them as well. A poke is a handy thing but those plastic ones are handy for bathroom trash bags too. I use to brown bag my lunch before they came out with those handy dandy little insulated lunch containers.
    We also poke fun at someone or as my wife will say to us after pulling an all nighter at the hospital,” Don’t poke the bear!”

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Hummm! I wonder which one is hiding in the ‘poke.’ Frankly, I have never heard that word used that way. I am a firm believer that using a paper bag is much more ecologically friendly, but that means it has to be part of a tree. I try to remember my fabric bags as they are stronger. I always ask for paper if possible, but some places don’t give you a choice. Another but, I hear that the fabric bags carry germs from the products we put into them and need to be washed. I just really wonder how strong those bags are after washing them. It seems like a vicious circle to me! I still like the paper ones!

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    January 27, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    I grew up calling a poke a poke, my grandma and mommy both used the word. I use it with my grandchildren now. It is a part of their heritage I don’t want to be lost.
    My grandma also kept the heavy poke that sugar came in. Because that is a very strong poke, she saved it “for good.” I have seen her put eggs in one to send them home with someone who dropped by for a visit.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 11:46 am

    LOL! Love the pic of the Pressley Girl hiding under the poke. I’m with you Tipper, I’ll take a paper bag over a plastic one every time I get the chance. I keep my paper pokes stashed in a safe place!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

    and Marc…when we go to eat, some pull up to the table and “put on the feed bag”. Also on a calf (a wire contraption hung around a calfs neck to hold feed, when young. When Granpap went to the feed store, he brought home hog feed in a “feed sack”…Some people take their lunch in a “lunch sack” and some in a “lunch bag”! Mom would say, “Get me one of those “little paper sacks” if she was going to put something separate for something else and then she would say put all of it in that big paper poke! lol
    Which is bigger a sack, a poke, or a bag?
    Thanks Tipper,
    My comments I suppose need to go in Ed’s blivit bag! LOL

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 27, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I like paper pokes too, not for starting
    fires though, I save paper egg cartons for that. But I still have that thick Ice Cream poke you put something in and shared a couple years ago.
    Dan McCarter mentioned Poke Salat. I
    use to hear that it’s poison too, but
    after boiling a couple times and drain, it’s great fried with scrambled eggs…Ken

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Back when I first converted from Yankee-ism, I remember having to ask someone what a poke was; that person was referring to the foil sack of Half and Half tobacco in my hands as I was hand-rolling a cigarette. “A poke-a-backer”; sounded like he was talking about a failed automobile company. I finally figured out that pokes were small, as opposed to sacks, which were too large to be pokes. Wadn’t no such thing as a bag.
    If poke sallet was p’izen I’d be dead forty years ago.
    Tipper, have teenagers started wearing dark blue dresses with polky-dots now?

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Poke vs sack vs bag.When my mother moved to E.Tennessee from Birmingham, AL.,she was asked at the check-out if she’d like her items in a poke? She said, “a what?”…oh, you mean a sack?”

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 27, 2014 at 10:12 am

    You never know when you will make someone’s day!
    One time I was in one of those fancy-scmancy, grocery/kitchen stores in Knoxville! One of the male cashiers was ringing up my items. He looked very bored and tired with all the la-di-da talk that had just preceded me in the check out line! When he asked me if I wanted paper or plastic, just for fun, I said, “I’ll take one of them “brown paper pokes”, that’ll do!” Thank ye, kindly!
    He stopped dead in his tracks, and started laughing! I sure have’nt heard “poke” in a long time, he laughed. Where you from? I said, so and so and he said I’m from so and so and soooo he was still wanting to talk and laugh as the La-ti-da line was backing up behind me….I heard him ask the next customer, who surely was listening to our conversation, as he began to ring up their items, “Which one do you want “plastic or poke?” with a big grin and a wink toward us!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Great post this morning.
    Turning colder and windy, with a likely “spit of snow” this late morning and early evening!

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    January 27, 2014 at 10:07 am

    The term survives in the old saying about buying a pig in a poke, though I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been paper in that case.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 10:00 am

    I heard some of the states out west already banned those plastic grocery bags that are becoming a hazard to their fish and wildlife. Can’t wait until they are banned everywhere. I usually donate my plastic bags to a food pantry/thrift store down the road. A good heavy poke is hard to come by in my neck of the woods. They sell a bundle of big paper pokes at Rural King Farm Supply. My sister uses them to haul away old flowers from the cemetery. They are quiet pricey though.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    January 27, 2014 at 9:59 am

    My brother Virgil tells this story about when he was in the marines stationed in California. A friend needed something. Virgil told him, “Its in a poke in the back seat of my car. The friend was gone a long time and came back inside to Virgil. “Virgil, what is a poke?”

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 9:46 am

    We also use pokes for curling little girls hair 🙂 It worked when my granny was little. Still works 🙂

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    January 27, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Somewhere in the dusty corners of my mind, I remember seeing something that alleged that, if you time-warped back to Scotland in the 13th century, the Celtic word “poke” was the word for a fabric or animal skin container. If that is true, just another example of the old Scots-Irish traditions surviving into modern-day Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Marc Kruger
    January 27, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Here in Wisconsin, the grocery we shop at offers both plastic or paper. We always choose the paper bags as the have handles. Whenever we have family over they come in handy for them to take home leftovers from supper. I also use them for wrapping parcels for mailing and cut them into sheets to absorb grease from fried foods. We do use the cloth totes when we think of them.
    I find it very interesting that certain words such as ‘poke’ are localized. When we lived in Texas in late 1960s they called bags ‘sacks’.

  • Reply
    steve in tn
    January 27, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Although they can overwhelm the plastic ones are also handy. if they dont leak they are good trash bags…esp for fridge or runny refuse. I also hoard the paper ones. Aldi charges a dime for them.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    January 27, 2014 at 8:39 am

    I carry very thin fabric totes in my purse for small purchases. For grocery treks I have canvas totes. One or two plastic bags folded into triangles also have a place in my handbag. The only use I’ve ever found for them is as emergency rain bonnets. Guess I’m just a bag lady.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 27, 2014 at 8:21 am

    Morning Tip, I’ve got a funny “poke” story for you today. My Dad had a younger brother, Van. Van is long dead now but when he was a young man he went into the military, Army probably but I don’t know for sure. While in the service he met and married a sweet young woman from Oklahoma. After discharge he came home to Coffee Branch, a little community up the river from Canton NC. Van got a job at the mill and they were living with his parents till they got a place of their own. Van was working at night and sleeping during the day and his bride, Ruth, was helping his mom with farm
    chores. One day Dollie (Van’s mother and my grandmother) was working in the garden with Ruth. She turned to Ruth and asked her to go back to the house and get her a poke. Ruth went to the house and woke up Van, who was sleeping because he had worked the night before and asked him what a poke was. You see, Ruth was from Oklahoma and she had no idea what a poke was and she didn’t want to appear ignorant in from of her new mother in law. Van told Ruth what a poke was and where to find one. Ruth got the poke and took it to the garden for her new mother in law.
    Van didn’t tell on his new wife but in later years Ruth used to tell the story and laugh.
    There is one more Ruth, the new daughter in law story but I’ll save it for some time when we are talking about flowers!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 27, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Paper is available if you ask for it. I’ve gotten in the habit of taking my own, they stay in my car and are put back right after they are unloaded.
    My grandparents used to call a bag a poke, but I don’t think I’ve heard it since.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    January 27, 2014 at 7:31 am

    The grocery store I usually go to is a family
    Owned store that competes with chain stores.
    They use senior citizens for cashiers and check-out.
    They will ask every customer, plastic or paper?
    I answer with a paper poke. The poke is a heavy paper
    One with handles. I use them for many reasons.
    These older people know what I mean when I answer,
    Poke paper please.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    Chuck Dodds
    January 27, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Your photo of the paper bag over your head reminds me of the time me along with three of my dear high school friends rode through our CHRISTMAS PARADE riding in my 1955 Chevrolet convertible with each of us having our heads covered with paper bags. Of course we had eye holes so we could see. That was back in my 50’s some. 25 years ago.
    PS: My daughters Shauna and Sarah “won” a Grammylast night!

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    January 27, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I,like Quinn, have totes in the car. I am getting a bit better at remembering them. We have option at our local grocery and can get get paper bags, but they are not as sturdy as they were a few years ago. Hate those flimsy plastic things. Hate to see them blowing around, stuck in trees and on fences.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 27, 2014 at 7:14 am

    Paper pokes are also good for protecting plants from frost, singeing chickens and making blivits.

  • Reply
    Dan McCarter
    January 27, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Poke is also a green we pick for poke salat.
    I now read that it is poison. But I picked a lot of it when I was growing up and I loved it.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2014 at 6:06 am

    I also carefully hoard and reuse my rare brown paper bags, especially the really heavy-duty ones with handles. But those flimsy plastic ones seem to reproduce when my back is turned!
    I’ve gotten as far as keeping several canvas totes in my car to use for grocery shopping, but I almost never think of them until I’m standing in the checkout line.

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