Friday, April 23, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Poke Salet

Phytolacca Americana, or pokeweed plant, grows prolifically in the Southeast. One of the first wild plants to appear in the spring, it is prized by birds and some people like me. Generally considered toxic overall, only the tender shoots are good to eat.

The plants will grow to ten feet tall in the summer, producing berries that turn purple in the fall. Birds love these berries, and you may find the splatters on your car tinged a nice magenta during that time. The berries can be used for dye, and almost every little girl in my generation made pokeberry pie, a lovely creation that, alas, could not be eaten.

My mother was a teenager during the Great Depression of the 1930s. She told of one winter when there was no cash, no jobs to be had. My grandfather worked for a farmer who produced molasses, and was paid with the product they made. Using ground corn from the previous year, her family consisted throughout the winter eating cornbread and molasses three times a day. They were thrilled when the poke salet shoots appeared above ground; it meant fresh greens full of the vitamins and minerals they had lacked all winter. I love finding and cooking it because I love tradition; not because I'm hungry. To my mom's family, it was manna from heaven!

My daddy claimed that eating three good messes of poke salet would clean you out and you would be good to go for another year. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, ask someone. It would be gauche for a fine Southern lady like me to talk about such unpleasantness.

Come back tomorrow and learn how to cook up a pot of poke salet!

Then God said, "I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food. To all animals and all birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the ground for food." And there it was. Genesis 1:29-30 Message