Appalachia Appalachian Food

Poke Sallet

boiling-poke-sallet

“Mountain Cooking—Poke Sallet” written by John Parris

Poke sallet is a favorite dish of mountain folks whose tastes run to natural foods.

Of all the wild greens, it’s 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 than 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 to fix it from my mother and grandmother. But all of it has got to be cooked. First you’ve got to parboil it. I boil mine three times. That gets 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.”

—-

I’ve only eaten poke sallet once and I must admit I didn’t care for it. Pap said they ate it often when he was a boy, but he didn’t care for it either. I talked to him about fixing me some one time and he said “The only way I’d eat poke sallet again is if I had nothing else to eat.”

Tipper

Appalachian Cooking Class details

Come cook with me!

MOUNTAIN FLAVORS – TRADITIONAL APPALACHIAN COOKING
Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 2019
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Gigi
    April 16, 2019 at 10:59 am

    As a child growing up, we all would get handed a feed sack and we would head for the hills to pick a sack full of poke. My Dad, Mom, my older brother and myself. I loved doing this. My brother and myself didn’t care for poke greens but Mom made us eat them and thats how i learned to like greens. After the boiling and cooling down , we canned some and also put some in the freezer. We raise and hunted and got all our food on our land. Never did go hungry. Thanks for that memory Tipper. God Bless!

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    April 15, 2019 at 8:21 pm

    Mt Dad used to talk about polk sallet often.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    April 15, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    I love Polk Salad It is best mixed with corn meal and fried, or with scrambled egg and fried.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    April 15, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    We always ate mixed with other greens. Many of our Appalachian foods come with a warning in preparation or how much to consume. Sassafras tea once taken from market but can be found now, and is a natural blood thinner. Poke Sallet had many warnings, especially to leave it be once no longer tender. Rhubarb is another of our favorites that come with warnings, but I cannot count the times we children would get into somebody’s rhubarb and eat it raw. We ate the green apples which really did cause stomach aches. Well, we survived it all which leads me to believe in the old adage, “What don’t kill you makes you stronger.” I think they meant stronger mentally, but the old food and ways made for some tough young’uns.

  • Reply
    Emily in Austin, TX
    April 15, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Bill Burnett, please tell us more about your “pone of cornbread” you mention in your comments on Poke.
    What we called “cornpone” was an oval patty about half an inch thick made from cornmeal mush and fried in deepish fat until the outside was hard and golden, and the inside still moist and creamy. Thank you for any comments.

  • Reply
    Dee
    April 15, 2019 at 10:50 am

    I don’t remember ever eating polk salad but I sure remember Elvis singing Polk Salad Annie. I love collards, turnip greens and mustard greens. My mother was a fantastic cook, great story-teller, and creative artist. She loved to gather material from the woods and dry them putting them into flower creations. She showed me how she took a white cotton dress and a white slip. She took the purple looking berries off the top of a mature polk salad and boiled the berries then removed the berries. She took the white dress and slip and put them in the pot for just enough time to get the color she wanted then removed them to dry. It made the most beautiful deep pink dress and slip to match. I still have the slip and intend to pass it on to the younger generation.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 15, 2019 at 10:49 am

    I have never cared for it. It’s coming up around here & I may try it again. I love most greens–my husband hates them–says he’d rather eat grass! My favorite old timey spring dish is the wilted lettuce & onions.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    April 15, 2019 at 9:02 am

    My favorite way to eat polk is to fry the stalk. There is quiet a bit growing here around the barn and I love frying up a mess from time to time. Roll it in meal and flour before frying and it tastes a lot like fish. I have never heard that the root was poison.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 15, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Dad picked poke ever spring. He really liked it but I never cared for it myself. He only picked the newest leaves and only boiled it one time then added salt and vinegar. The young stalks are better eating as far as I’m concerned. Cut them length wise and dip in a corn bread batter and deep fry. We never used the bigger stalks believing they had more time to concentrate the poison from the root. They really are good but I think you could take almost any weed, roll it in a corn meal batter and southern fry and it would be good!!!
    Dad told me when he was a small boy he fed his younger sister poke root and she got deathly sick when Mamaw found out what Aunt Edna had eat she gave her herbs and she got better. I asked Dad what the herbs were and he didn’t remember. No one to ask now. There are none of Dad’s brothers or sisters living.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 15, 2019 at 8:42 am

    Poke is up here. I like it fine but it is one of those things I never just have a craving for. I pick it and take it to church to give away.

    I guess it would be more acceptable to the rest of the world if it was called ‘mountain asparagus’ and fixed as a ‘quiche’. But who wants to be like the rest of the world?

    Here is something I would like to know about poke. Do the seeds stay viable for years and years, just waiting for sunshine? Or do specific birds bring the seed in to ‘new ground’ type openings as fast as they are made?

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 15, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Foxes eat poke berries too hence the phrase “redder than a fox’s @$$ in poke berry time.”
      Possums also eat the berries. Maybe the seeds are like tommy toes and are more viable if they pass through the digestive tract of an animal.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    April 15, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Poke Salad was the first ‘green’ to come up when I was a kid. After having no greens all Winter we were eager for it. After other garden items were available poke was seen as not fit to eat. One of my sisters gathered and froze it for later Summer use. I’ve eaten lots of it in yonder years. We only boiled it twice.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 15, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I never was much of one to eat any kind of greens much less poke salad. I do remember picking it and bringing it home to Mommy to fix. I did like it when the stem was sliced into discs, breaded and fried like Miss Cindy’s Dad.
    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a taste for more green things but don’t have access to any poke salad now.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    April 15, 2019 at 8:03 am

    Will be eating some soon….have been eating poke since a child.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    April 15, 2019 at 7:48 am

    Doesn’t sound like something I want to try. I don’t remember ever having it but I know I ate a lot of things and did not know what I was eating. I was told it was not polite to ask. Just eat what was put in front of you. Dad told us our Mother would never put something on the table that wasn’t good for us.

  • Reply
    Richard
    April 15, 2019 at 7:32 am

    I love poke, especially like the lady in this article describes fixed with eggs. It is also good with soup beans.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 15, 2019 at 6:57 am

    I’ve eaten polk a number of times. I use the tender tops and mix them with other greens like mustard and turnip greens to cut the strong flavor. There is also lambs quarter and and some other wild greens that are also good mixed in. My grand mother semi-cultivated some of the wild greens on the edge of her garden plot so they would come back every year.
    It was not unusual to fine a package in her freezer or a canning jar marked simply ‘salad’ and that would be a mixture of the wild greens she stashed away for winter eating.
    My Dad talked about picking polk shoots from the plant not opened yet and breading and frying them.
    My grandmother lived in the mountains and lived through the depression she was very careful with food, she had known what it was like to not have enough eat. You just never knew what might turn up in her freezer.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 15, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Growing up at Needmore, NC Poke was a staple from the time the top started greening until it became tough. I have eaten it prepared several ways but prefer it as a Salad fried in Bacon or Fatback Grease after parboiling as John described in his article. I add a little vinegar while quick frying in the Pork Grease then adding more to taste. Poke requires a good pone of Cornbread and Milk along with “Arshe Taters” prepared in the individuals preferred choice from boiled to fried.

  • Reply
    tmc
    April 15, 2019 at 5:35 am

    It’s been a while since we’ve eaten any. My Mamaw would fix it every spring at least a couple of times. I think my wife fixes it with a pinch or two of sugar to knock down the bitter, she does collards that way and I could eat’em till I pop.

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