Festival of Green: A Month of Poke Sallet
The strange little plant known as poke sallet has a deep-rooted history as a Southern food staple. Immortalized in Tony Joe White’s song “Polk Salad Annie,” poke sallet is a term used for the cooked, young leaves of the poke weed. It’s a common plant that grows in abundance in the eastern United States and especially in the South. Though poke sallet is mostly used as a spring green, cooks must proceed with caution in preparation because the plant is actually poisonous. Most people suggest boiling the leaves at least twice, even three times, and throwing away the water each time.
Collecting poke is simple enough, and May is prime time. Just pick the leaves before they begin to bloom or seed, and wash them well. The root is never eaten. If you’d rather explore poke sallet outside your own kitchen and leave the boiling to someone else, festivals in name of the vegetable are taking place across the Deep South through the beginning of June. With a mix of poke sallet eating contests, arts and crafts, music and more, these longtime events are aimed at celebrating this old-time plant and its uniquely Southern heritage.
May 5-10: The 40th annual Poke Salad Festival in Blanchard, Louisiana, will feature live entertainment, a carnival, treasure hunt, parade and plenty of kid-friendly activities. This year, a “Poke Salad Idol” contest will be held for those who want to compete for the 2014 title.
May 9-11: The Poke Sallet Festival in Gainesboro, Tennessee, includes the famous Out House Race and Poke Sallet Eating Contest, with a background of folk art and emphasis on mountain music. Legend in this area has it that many a Cvil War soldier wrote letters to their loved ones using ink made from poke berries.
May 16-17: Arab Alabama’s Poke Salat Festival is in its 30th year and will include lots of local vendors, live music, a hula hoop contest, pet parade and demonstrations of crafts like basket weaving and chair caning.
June 5-7: Conceived at a dinner featuring poke sallet, the Harlan County Poke Sallet Festival in Kentucky is now in its 58th year. Today the festival focuses on entertainment and local artisans with a carnival, food vendors, bungee jumping and a POKE Idol show.
Illustration by uwdigitalcollections [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.