Appalachian Food

Poke Sallet

Appalachia Homeplace

Poke Sallet is a favorite dish of mountain folks whose tastes run to natural foods. Of all the wild greens, its the best known and the most sought after.

But, like collard greens and hominy grits, a taste for poke sallet must be cultivated by outsiders.

Mountain women begin picking poke as soon as the young sprouts shoot out of the ground in the spring, and they keep right on picking it and serving it until the sprouts grow old and tough.

Some of them like Mrs. Elvie Corn who lives here on Dodgin Creek in the hills above Cullowhee, have been picking poke since they were kneehigh to a duck. Mrs. Corn has been searching it out and picking it for more the 50 years.

“Poke is best,” she said a couple of days ago, “when the sprouts are white and tender with just a little tuft of green leaves at the top. But you’ve got to pick it with a sparing hand. The root is a deadly poison. And if you get too much of the lower part of the shoot it’ll give a body a fit when they eat it.”

She had just come in from picking a mess of poke sallet from the field back of her house.

“There’s different ways of fixing poke,” she said. “I’ve never seen any written recipes for it. I learned how to fix it from my mother and my grandmother. But all of it has got to be cooked. First, you’ve got to parboil it. I boil mine three times. That get’s out any poison there might be. With the first boiling, the water turns red. You pour that off, put in fresh water and boil it again. And then you pour that off, put in water again and boil it a third time. You can serve the sallet as it comes out of the pot. Eat it with vinegar poured over it. But the way I like it best is to take it when it comes out of the pot, cut it up, put it in a greased frying pan with eggs and stir it all together.”

“Another way to fix poke is to take it after you’ve parboiled it and cut it up and roll it in cornmeal and fry it like you would okra. It’s mighty tasty, too, if you’ll chop it up with onions and fry it with bacon or fat-back drippings.”

I told her that my wife cooks poke like asparagus and serves it with hot Hollandaise sauce.

Mrs. Corn recalled that as a child all the old folks warned her to be mighty particular about picking poke too close to the root. “They said if you ate the root it would kill you. But my grandmother used to get the roots and boil them until they were tender and then sprinkle cormeal on them and put them out for the chickens to peck on. She claimed it was good for them.”

—John Parris “Mountain Cooking”


I’ve only eaten poke a couple of times in my life. Granny said she never cared for it when she was growing up, but said her sister and her husband was just crazy about it and would go out and gather it every spring. Pap said his family ate it, but that he thought of poke as one of those things that he would only eat if he had to.

The most recent time I tasted poke, which was many years ago, a friend made some with scrambled eggs like Mrs. Corn described. I did not care for it at all. I’d like to find some poke and try fixing it the other ways described in the excerpt and see if I liked it any better.

Last night’s video: Starting Tomatoes in Appalachia & Our Favorite Varieties.

Tipper

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Robert
    March 28, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    My Pa pointed out poke salad to me when I was a kid when it was mid-summer and told me it was poisonous. Years later I asked about it because I had read that people ate it. He told me that it was edible when picked early in Spring, but I don’t recall ever having seen any I could identify until it grew its berries in summer.

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    March 26, 2022 at 1:15 pm

    It grows on my grandma’s grave, and my mother always found that amusing. (Yes, my grandma loved to eat it.)

  • Reply
    Melanie Keeling
    March 25, 2022 at 8:40 am

    Swiss Chard
    I know it grows along the roads, but the taste is very mild.

  • Reply
    Tamara Figge
    March 24, 2022 at 1:35 pm

    *I forgot to add that I remember my grandmother said you had to harvest the leaves and stems before the poison got in, by looking at the red in the root. Once the red is in the stems and leaves, it’s not good to eat.

  • Reply
    Tamara Figge
    March 24, 2022 at 1:25 pm

    My grandma fixed poke sallet every spring. I loved the way it tasted. Bitter, but offset with the vinegar and bacon grease. It was a favorite childhood memory of mine. I found a ton growing behind my house, I plan to harvest.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    March 23, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    I remember as a child we would get a grass sack and go up the side of the mountain and we all would fill our sacks full. We would cann the poke greens and also put some in the freezer. Gosh they were so good.I loved picking poke greens. It was family time to. We would talk and just have fun.

  • Reply
    Christine
    March 21, 2022 at 10:08 pm

    I’ve never ate Poke, but I have heard about them. My mother in law, talks about eating them all the time growing up.

  • Reply
    Tina Huffman
    March 21, 2022 at 10:01 pm

    Poke is one of the most beautiful plants. I tried to get it to grow in a dirt pile out back and it lasted for a while, then like my asparagus it just didn’t come back one year. Momma always said you needed a few different aged beds of asparagus because it gets old and just doesn’t come back after a few years. The birds loved the seeds/fruit of the poke. I read that one could use the red berries medicinally but I was never had the guts to try it even after I found a recipe. We actually have no shortage of poke where I live here in Indiana. I start the spring with mushroom hunts first and poke usually follows a couple weeks after. God bless! Thank you, Tipper for keeping old knowledge ripe in our minds.

  • Reply
    Denise R
    March 21, 2022 at 9:40 pm

    Knowing that the plant is poisonous, like rhubarb, I’ll pass, even if there are ways to make it edible!

  • Reply
    Gaye be Blaine
    March 21, 2022 at 7:46 pm

    Mama cooked fresh poke stalks as she did okra-rolled in meal and fried in bacon grease. No par boiling. It was delicious.

  • Reply
    Ava
    March 21, 2022 at 7:32 pm

    I believe those who have not had poke have not missed much. I do have fond memories of picking it with my grandmother in the spring. My mother and grandmother would always mix it with turnip or mustard greens so it wouldn’t have such a harsh taste.

  • Reply
    Kimberly King
    March 21, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    I had never heard of Poke Sallet until I married. My late mother in-law always cooked a mess of Poke in the early spring. I loved it with a little bacon grease and crumbled bacon. I love all greens except them nasty Brussel sprouts haha

    • Reply
      Jan
      April 10, 2022 at 4:24 pm

      Try brussel sprouts roasted! I put them in a bowl, pour over a little oil, salt and pepper to taste. Roast them on 425 until they are browned. Almost burned makes the best. Roasting will work for any root veg and really enhances the flavor! My son who hates all green vegs loves these!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    March 21, 2022 at 6:17 pm

    “Knew a gal lived down there one time…every evenin’ she’d go out pick a mess of it”—–Tony Joe White

  • Reply
    judy barrett
    March 21, 2022 at 2:23 pm

    My father told the story of the time his mother Mary Ashe, who was a skilled herbalist, tried to cure a bad rash that was troubling her brother John. She went into the woods and brought back poke weed along with a batch of other herbs and made up a wash to help Johns red itchy skin. My father and his brother Luke got the job of spreading the medicine all over Uncle John. They stood him in one of the old wooden washtubs and started work. They dipped cloths in the bucket of medicine, and then gently spread it all over the rash.
    My father said that all went well for several minutes, and then uncle John lost is mind. He began to cry and to talk nonsense. The boys stopped the treatment and yelled to Mary to come and help. She helped John out of the washtub and out into the yard where she and both boys poured bucket after bucket of clean water over him to wash the poke concockshan away. The rash did clear up in a few days, but John often wondered which was worse, the cure or the disease.

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    March 21, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    I’m glad you reminded us to watch for the polk sallet early. I’m going to take a walk after while and see if I can harvest some of that delicious gift of Nature. I sure do like it! I even tried to transplant it into our raised garden bed last year but it hasn’t come up yet. It had a very long root that I planted deep and well. I hope my efforts will be rewarded! I’ll let you know. I hope you and your family will have a wonderfully blessed day. Kin, Barbrie

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    March 21, 2022 at 11:17 am

    I’ve never had poke sallet but would love to try it. I remember my mom saying when she was growing up her parents like it but she never did. I very seldom see it growing in my area now since farmers now cultivate and spray herbicides from tree to tree.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    March 21, 2022 at 10:42 am

    When we gathered wild greens in the Spring it had a mix including young tender polk. I guess I was some kind of weird child, but those greens always were my favorite food. Always cooked, then fried down in bacon grease, and always with cornbread. It was a stand alone meat. It was looked forward to so much that no meat or sides cook to detract from that wild greens feast. Kids helped pick, and that would terrify me these days.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 21, 2022 at 10:35 am

    My folks picked and cooked poke sallet every spring. In them days I wouldn’t eat anything green. I am 71 years old and still haven’t tried it. Not the greens anyway. Mommy would cut the tender young stems like you would okry and fry them up the same way. Now that stuff was goood! Couldn’t eat too much though. It’ll give you the green apple getalongs.
    Rhubarb is something else that is poisonous is you eat the wrong parts. Mommy used to make rhubarb and strawberry pies. I wouldn’t eat that either. I didn’t like cooked strawberries or rhubarb. I have been known to use a stalk of rhubarb to dip in sugar and eat it that way. It’s kinda like eating sweetarts

    • Reply
      Patty Hansen
      March 21, 2022 at 3:21 pm

      I had a second cousin that almost died from eating rhubarb leaves. She was just a bitty thing and my great grandma wasn’t watching her too well. She got really sick and nobody knew just what the matter was with her. Guess they figured it out somehow, had to take her to the hospital. My great grandma was known far and wide for her huge rhubarb patch (Dairy Farm…Lots of cow manure!), maybe she finally put 2 & 2 together.
      And you are the only other person I have every heard call it the green apple ‘getalongs’. My granddad called ’em the green apple two-steps! Makes me laugh every time i say it. I’m laughing right now. But I guess if you’ve ever eaten green apples you know what its allll about.

      • Reply
        Robert
        March 28, 2022 at 8:10 pm

        I learned the idiom as ‘the green apple quick step.’

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    March 21, 2022 at 10:25 am

    Daddy taught me to pick the leaves when the poke is no higher than your knee. I do the 3 boils then fry it up with sausage and onions and sometimes potatoes. So good. A spring blood purifier. As a kid I used the poke berries to make purple ink.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    March 21, 2022 at 9:44 am

    My grandmother always cooked poke in the spring and it was very good. She would boil it and then finish it in an iron skillet with eggs as others have mentioned.

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    March 21, 2022 at 8:43 am

    Dad really liked poke greens and I have eaten it several times but prefer mustard or turnip greens cooked then fried in grease, salted and add vinegar. I have an uncle that takes the young stalks, cuts them length wise, rolls them in corn meal and fries them. Well, you can make most things taste good rolled in corn meal and fried in hog lard.

    I think I’ve told this before but here goes. Dad ate a small amount of poke root when he was a young boy and gave his younger sister some and she got deathly sick. When mamaw found out what she had eaten she gave her something to kill the poison, but dad didn’t remember what the antidote was.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 21, 2022 at 8:15 am

    Interesting range of comments today. I like to find poke coming up whether I pick it or not. I have quite a bit scattered around on this little postage stamps sized lot. I pick it and take to a woman at church mostly. I may have one serving myself but my wife is no help. She will cook it for me if I bring it in but I rarely do. My Mom used to fix the poke and eggs dish and I liked it. Been many a year since I had that dish.

    Poke can be ‘hot’ tasting if not put through two waters. But I had not heard before of using three waters. I’ve heard, but don’t know by experience, that it gets stronger with age which also means as it gets bigger. I have always thought that was why folks picked the young tender shoots. But as mentioned, some folks cook the stems and some just the leaves. I think “deadly poison” is a misunderstanding and that before it caused any serious health problems it would be too ‘hot’ to eat. I very much doubt it would sneak up on a body. Its reputation as a poison may come in part at least from the reputed use of its roots by Native Americans to stun or maybe even kill fish by throwing chunks of the roots in the water. Probably was a good de-wormer to.

  • Reply
    Glenda G. Page
    March 21, 2022 at 8:05 am

    Yum stuff…my Mother-In-Law made it and I helped her youngest son harvest and cut it. In some places it is illegal to harvest and he found some in what he called ‘deer woods’. I guess the newer generations won’t know ‘good stuff’ unless they learn it from their elders…thanks for sharing Tipper and God Bless

  • Reply
    Margie G
    March 21, 2022 at 8:01 am

    Poke Sallet is a big deal in some parts of WV and ramps too! Poke is eaten with hot bacon grease and bacon bits. I’m certain it would send a body quickly to the outhouse or in-house (whichever one is handy!) I’m certain it provides a great spring cleansing. I’m not into it, but to each his own! I know ramp season makes for stinky breath and pores. Lol

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    March 21, 2022 at 7:53 am

    Elvis sang a song about polk.
    About Polk Salad Annie
    “Polk Salad Annie” is a 1968 song written and performed by Tony Joe White. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Its lyrics describe the lifestyle of a poor rural Southern girl and her family. Traditionally, the term to describe the type of food highlighted in the song is polk or poke sallet, a cooked greens dish made from pokeweed. Its 1969 single release peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, the song made No. 10 on the RPM Magazine Hot Singles chart. more »

  • Reply
    Alvin Meeks
    March 21, 2022 at 7:23 am

    Only thing different is we always soaked it first in cold water for a spell. Then fixed it the way written eat it with crackling corn bread pear pickles pears pickled with bread and butter pickling spices. Been a long spell since had them

  • Reply
    Martha Justice
    March 21, 2022 at 7:23 am

    I grew up eating poke and I love it. My mama taught me how to fix it, she did the par boiling method and seasoned it with bacon grease and salt. Once I asked my husband to pick some for me while I was at work. I told him to pick a sack full because it wilted down so much. I meant a grocery bag but when I came home from work my kitchen table was piled high with about a eight inch layer of poke. He must have used a 55 gallon leaf bag ! I was never so glad to finish cleaning and cooking poke, it took me hours, but I was determined not to let any of it go to waste since my “precious husband” had picked it for me. Needless to say I never sent him poke picking without me again LOL I ‘m waiting for the poke to poke its tasty shoots again this spring ❤

  • Reply
    Mint2Bee
    March 21, 2022 at 7:16 am

    I’ve heard of poke sallet but never had it. The fact that the root is a deadly poison scares me, I wouldn’t trust myself to pick it. It may be the most sought after by some but I think I’ll pass and not take that chance 🙂

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 21, 2022 at 6:55 am

    I used to eat Polk but have not had it in years. I didn’t eat the stalk just the leaves. I picked them young, and tender then cooked them like any other green leaf vegetable. I thought them quite tasty! I remember the stories about them being poisonous, but I never had any problem with them.
    I think it must have been from my grandmother that I learned about cooking Polk.

  • Reply
    Steve Wortham
    March 21, 2022 at 6:46 am

    Poke Sallet was commonly eaten around our community in West Getting by mixing it with turnip, collard or mustard greens. It had a slimy texture & strong taste otherwise.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    March 21, 2022 at 6:34 am

    I grew up eating poke and still love it as I did when I was a child. Mom never parboiled the stalks and none of us ever got sick. The only way she ever fixed it was to roll it in cornmeal and fry it. When my parents moved to the outskirts of Louisville, an elderly lady next door asked mom to go pick poke with her. Mom found out that the neighbor only ate the greens. That worked out great as they shared their find. We never called it poke sallet, just poke. One of my best friends has been nicknamed poke sallet for as long as I can remember.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    March 21, 2022 at 4:46 am

    Yay! Looks like my internet server is back, Tipper! Technology is so temperamental/fickle. Patience with it is not one of my top virtues. Please forgive me when I throw my little temper tantrums over it’s glitches!!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    donna sue
    March 21, 2022 at 4:37 am

    I have never had poke sallet, but I have heard of it. I am still working on trying to like other greens like mustard greens! I know we need our veggies, so I am adding new ones to my plate a little at a time. Growing up, and actually until within the last ten or fifteen years, I would only eat corn mostly, green beans if I had to. But now I do eat a variety of veggies, but there are still a lot more I need to try. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed reading how Mrs. Corn harvested and cooked poke sallet, and the history of it in her family.

    Donna. : )

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