|Poke Salat Versatility|
My family lived in Anniston until I was almost 11. My mother was the principal at Blue Mountain Elementary and we were able to go with her to school although we lived in many different neighborhoods over the years. If you have moved around a lot, you know some houses feel more like home than others. For me, rather than the house itself or the neighborhood being a symbol of comfort, it’s the feeling invoked by memories of playing outside.
As kids, my sister and I were always playing outside: building forts, becoming prairie settlers or foraging Native Americans. Our imaginations were fertile with ideas for play. The scenarios we came up with were as unlimited as the number of mosquitoes hovering at dusk.
Jason grew up living in the house his parents still live in today. Although the two of us have very different backgrounds when it comes to where we have lived, we still grew up playing outside in much the same way. He was more interested in being outside than sitting in front of the television playing video games for hours. Now that we have Rolley Len and Cason, it is important to both of us for them to have a sense of place and an appreciation of the outdoors. While they do watch cartoons and other television shows, they learn a lot from doing like how to find worms in logs and how to shake a squirrel out of his nest.
When Jason was a child, there were two oak trees across the pasture from his family’s house in Little Texas. He describes the trees as having had long branches touching the ground. Jason played under the canopy of those trees for years until he outgrew that kind of play. Our house we live in now was built just a few yards from those trees. One had to be cut down because of disease in 2010 and the drought we had for so long in Alabama didn’t help either tree. But one is still there like an ancient creature once glorious, but now a living memory of Jason’s childhood. Now, Jason and I watch Rolley Len and Cason play under the widower oak.
The kids gather berries, rocks, sand, leaves and weeds to "cook" salads, blueberry pies and potato stew. Watching them makes me proud not only because of their vivid imaginations, but because they seem to have a natural instinct about where food comes from. They play grocery store when they are inside the house, but they go for "fresh and local" when playing outside. Even a 4 and 2-year-old seem to understand that something directly out of the ground is better than something processed and packaged.
When your children forage for their own play food, it is a great reminder that good food can be right in your own backyard. For example, even if you live within city limits, many of you have probably had poke salat, also known as pokeweed, growing in your yard at one time. Some people consider it to be a nuisance, but, with some homemade cornbread, wild pokeweed can be a delicious meal in itself. Although our family is partial to having meat or fish on our plate for supper, late-spring and early-June are the best times for picking poke salat. If you are pinching pennies to feed your family, poke is truly one of the best found foods because it is typically easy to find, very abundant and, best of all, free.
Poke salat can be found in the city or the country, but you can always go to your local farmers market if you don’t already have it in your own backyard. The best places to look for it are along fence lines and under shady trees. It may be in a pasture or it may be in an alleyway. You just have to keep an eye out.
Poke salat will grow back in the same spot every year if you just pick the leaves rather than chopping the stalk. If you have more paper sacks full of poke than you can handle, it can be canned or frozen. Poke salat’s versatility is good for long-term dinner planning because it can be an extremely nutritional addition to a meal. A half cup of greens has only about 35 calories, provides 3 grams of fiber and plenty of vitamins A and C.
Although the boiled leaves don’t have much of a taste, they can be seasoned just like other greens. You can use salt, pepper, garlic or bacon drippings. And, of course, some people fry eggs with it in a skillet after the leaves are double-boiled. My mother thinks people either love it or hate it, but you never know until you try it. You may have to try different seasonings to find your favorite.
This spring, I showed Rolley Len how to get the nectar out of honeysuckle. In turn, she proudly showed her Maw-maw what she had learned. With our busy lives, it can be easy to forget our kids are always observing us and learning about their world. And then they pass along what they learn to friends, family and, eventually, their own children.
My mother taught my sister and me how to pick poke salat just as her mother did and now I have shown Rolley Len. Whether hunting, fishing or foraging, teaching our kids about nature and where their food comes from is so important. If we want our children to have a sense of pride about themselves and their family, we must teach them to appreciate where they and their family come from. Having faith in your family creates a sense of self-worth and values they will have the rest of their lives.
This summer, take time to watch your children or grandchildren play outdoors and let them inspire you to put something fresh, local and wild in your next meal. If you missed picking your own poke salat this year, I hope you will keep an eye out for it next spring.
*Because the berries, root and mature leaves with purple stems of the poke salat plant are toxic, there are rules to follow when cutting and cooking it. If you are ever unsure about how to harvest poke, be safe and call your local Master Gardener for advice.
POKE SALAT with EGGS
One or two paper sacks full of the smallest leaves of the poke plant
Parboil the poke leaves until they shrivel up like greens do. Pour off the water and add fresh water. Bring to a boil a second time. (Some people boil it three times!) Drain and put greens in a large skillet with onions, grease and a couple of eggs. Stir well while cooking on medium heat until eggs are scrambled as desired. Salt and pepper to taste and serve with pepper sauce.
The number of servings will vary depending on how much you pick and whether you eat it as a side or as your main dish.
You can also make your own healthy poke salat salsa. First, chop or tear the poke into smaller pieces either before or after boiling. Then leave out the eggs when you heat the greens in the skillet and add jalapenos, red peppers, whole kernel corn and any other favorite ingredients. Chill and scoop up with tortilla chips.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.