Poke Sallet (Poke Salad)

Posted: March 25, 2017 in Recipes, Tutorials
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12420252_f1024How to Handle, Harvest, and Prepare the Poisonous Pokeweed
The pokeweed can be found throughout the majority of the Continental United States, but is far more prevalent in the central to eastern states of the south. It is a poisonous weed, related to night shade, but if prepared for consumption correctly, it is actually considered a delicacy by many Southerners. In fact, in its cooked form, the pokeweed is so popular that many southern states hold yearly festivals in the early spring to commemorate it.

The cooked version of this weed is properly referred to as poke sallet, but many are not in tune with the proper pronunciation, so it is not uncommon to hear it referred to as poke salad. The word sallet traces back to Middle English and refers to a mess of greens cooked until tender. For example, cooked spinach could be referred to as a sallet, but raw spinach would be called a salad. This is important because for reasons that will be made clear to you later, the pokeweed should never be eaten raw. How and when one might harvest it in relative safety, and then we will detail a popular way to prepare poke sallet in the South.

12420233_f1024About the Poisoness Plant Pokeweed

First we will start by discussing all the ways in which the pokeweed can harm and/or kill you. It is worthy of note that no U.S. food organization endorses the consumption of pokeweed regardless of how it is prepared.

That being said, I would like to add that poke sallet has never harmed anyone I know that was aware of how to properly prepare it, and even the stories I’ve heard of an unwitting guest or relative finding a bowl of the uncooked leaves in a kitchen and mistaking them for spinach or some other edible, raw, green leafy, only ended with a day’s bout of diarrhea.

In addition, if, for example, pork is improperly prepared, it too can harm and/or kill a person. The FDA and the like are fine with giving pork the green light. My point is that foraging is becoming increasingly popular these days, and whether or not you choose to prepare and eat poke sallet is entirely up to you. It isn’t illegal, and if you are the sort of person who can follow directions and knows how not to cross-contaminate, this recipe might be for you. Now back to the dangerous nature of the pokeweed. Poison can be found throughout this plant, and only birds are immune to the effects. When this plant first sprouts in the early spring, it is at its least poisonous. Throughout the maturation of the pokeweed, the plant’s toxicity increases.

The most toxic part of the pokeweed is the root system. The roots of the pokeweed are by far the most potentially lethal part of the pokeweed. Next in toxicity are the leaves and stems. At some point the pokeweed will fruit. The fully ripened fruit of the pokeweed are quite toxic.
When it reaches maturity, the pokeweed can grow to over ten feet in height. It goes from a green to a beautiful purple color. Its ripened berries are usually a shiny, eye-catching black. Attracted by their beauty, many a child has became ill or died from the ingestion of these berries. Because they have harmed so many children over the years, some have suggested eliminating the pokeweed altogether.

Despite all the negative press, the mature pokeweed is still employed by some in plant arrangements because of its beauty and the plant is also sometimes rendered down to produce ink.
Safely Picking Pokeweed

12420245_f1024The next step is physically harvesting the plant. I highly recommend wearing gloves when you touch the raw pokeweed to avoid any poisoning from skin contact, though many do not. Of even more importance is having a cutting tool and cutting the pokeweed above the root system, as the root system is the most toxic part of the plant. Again, a lot of people just pull it up roots and all and are fine, but being as these roots are the most deadly part of the plant, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Pick a whole lot of it. When you get the pokeweed home and it is ready to cook, you will remove the edible leaves from the pokeweed’s stem, and then the leaves will go through an extensive cooking process to lessen the plant’s toxicity. This will cause what once looked like a great deal of pokeweed to reduce in size immensely. For example, a paper grocery bag full of pokeweed will probably only yield about 2 large servings of poke sallet.

I would recommend that you cook the pokeweed the same day you harvest it, but if you can’t, educate everyone in the household that is mature enough to understand about the plant’s toxicity, and keep the pokeweeds out of reach of small children and pets.
Preparing Poke Sallet

12420250_f1024The following is a southern style of preparing poke sallet, so of course it involves frying. For those of you who prefer your food healthier, poke sallet does not have to be fried, but it is essential that it go through the multi-stage boiling and rinsing detoxification process first regardless of how you choose to incorporate it in your food.

First, I recommend wearing gloves at the beginning of the cooking process. You want to start by removing all the leaves from the pokeweed plant. This is the part you will eat. Dispose of the rest of the plant in a safe manner.

Wash the leaves in cool water. Then place the leaves in a pot of water and bring them to a rolling boil for 20 minutes. Next pour the leaves into a sieve. Rinse the pokeweed leaves with cool water.

Repeat the above boiling and rinsing process at least one more time. Personally, like most people I know that prepare poke sallet, I only do the boiling and rinse twice, but many recipes recommend boiling and rinsing 3 times.

You are likely safe to dispose of your gloves after the first boiling and rinsing process. The thinking behind this is that you probably are no longer at risk of contact poisoning after the first boil/rinse and continuing to wear the same pair of gloves might cause toxins to be put back into the sallet that you have worked so hard to extract.

If you are very precautious, one might use a new pair of gloves for each handling of the pokeweed leaves throughout the boil/rinse process. That being said, many people that have prepared poke sallet throughout their live have never used the precaution of gloves at all with no perceivable consequence.

You definitely want to wash your boiling pot out after each boiling cleanse as not to put any toxins back in the pokeweed leaves that you have taken out. The same goes for your sieve. Clean it before each new rinse.

After you have properly detoxified the pokeweed leaves, you are going to panfry them for a couple of minutes in bacon grease. Last you add a bit of crumbled bacon and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve your poke sallet as a side. It is an excellent compliment for most any meal. The flavor is quite similar to fresh cooked spinach, but subtler in nature. If you like fresh cooked greens and you follow the steps properly, you will enjoy this dish

Cook Time12420255_f1024

Prep time: 2 hours Cook time: 3 hours Ready in: 5 hours Yields: Pick a lot. The pokeweed reduces down drastically.
Ingredients

Pokeweed Leaves
Bacon Fat, Enough to Coat Pan
Crushed Bacon, to Taste
Salt & Pepper, to Taste
Poke Sallet Recipe

Remove Pokeweed Leaves from Plant
Rinse Pokeweed Leaves in Cool Water
Bring Leaves to Rolling Boil in Large Pot for 20 Minutes
Pour Leaves into Sieve and Rinse in Cool Water
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 two more times
Panfry Pokeweed Leaves for a Couple of Minutes in Bacon Grease
Add Crushed Bacon, Salt and Pepper to Taste
Serve and Enjoy

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