night at a friend's lakehouse, the sun had slipped beyond the horizon,
a breeze began whipping the tops of the pine trees, and the gang's
conversation turned to grave national issues.
* Will George
W. Bush bring Texas barbecue to the White House?
* Where can
you find a good mess of poke sallet?
two minutes, we concluded we knew as much about poke sallet as politics
-- mostly because we're in our sixties, and our generation doesn't
appreciate poke sallet with the same intensity as our parents and
It's a shame,
too, because poke sallet -- sometimes called poke weed, scoke, inkberry
or gorget -- is considered one of spring's wild delicacies.
It's a large
handsome plant that grows as tall as five feet, usually in disturbed
soil. That's why you're likely to find it in places like cowpens,
gardens, and anyplace else the Texas Agriculture Commissioner has
made a speech.
In fact, that's
how the lakehouse gang turned to the subject of poke sallet.
A wad of plants was growing in a new flowerbed not far from the
back porch. Our lakehouse host said the flowerbed was where an old
cowpen once stood.
I've heard about
the culinary delights of poke sallet since I was a youngster, but
for a long time I called it poke "salad." My mother probably thought
I had a speech impediment.
Carnes of Lufkin
who was taught by her mother how to prepare poke sallet, swears
by its medicial properties as well as its taste. "Poke sallet is
the best spring tonic you can find; it gets your blood going," she
she and her husband Mack, an auctioneer, start scouring the countryside
for the iron-rich plant.
young plants or the tips of older plants. "If a plant is big, say
knee-high, it's likely to be tough and bitter," she said.
the greens thoroughly, adds a little salt, and cooks the greens
until they're tender. She then pours off the juice, adds more water
along with salt and pepper, and cooks the batch again.
She pours off
the juice a second time, adds more water, throws in some additional
seasonings such as bacon grease or pieces of pork, and cooks the
greens a third time. She occasionally adds a pinch or two of sugar
to cut the bitter taste.
"My momma told
me you had to cook poke sallet three times or you were liable to
get poisoned," said Marie. "I'm not sure that's right, but I'm not
about to take a chance."
She serves the
greens atop a plateful of scrambled eggs. "There isn't a better
country dish in East
Texas," she said. "It's a lot like spinach in taste and texture."
Marie's method is the most accepted method of eating poke sallet,
I've also heard of fried poke stalks, poke soup, poke-tuna roll
and poke pickles. But I haven't found them on any cafe menu --even
in the remotest corner of East
gang would be delighted to know that a nice wine can be made from
pokeberries although some folklore sources contend the berries are
to the poison, I am told, is to drink lots of vinegar and eat about
a pound of lard. That doesn't sound too bad. I've eaten worse in
some Dallas restaurants.
poisonous theory, some older folks swear that pokeberry wine is
good for rheumatism. I'm tempted to keep the wine theory a secret
from the lakehouse gang. They'll do anything to get a cheap glass
of liquor--even digging up the flowerbeds.
All Things Historical
May 6, 2001 Column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman is a former president of the East Texas Historical Association
and the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore.)
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