Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

a passel of poke

May is a great month for foraging; Spring has hit its stride and wild greens are abundant.

One of my favorite wild edibles is pokeweed, a delicious, plentiful, and easy-to-identify weed. Poke grows in 40 out of the 50 states and Southerners have long appreciated poke as a food; I think it's time the rest of us followed suit.

An excellent way to identify pokeweed is to look for the remnants of last year's stalks. New shoots emerge at the base of the flattened, dried stems from the previous year. The old stems may be 4 - 6 feet tall, but edible poke should be harvested when it's 8 - 12 inches tall, preferably showing little or no red in the stem.

Poke (Phytolacca americana) is a prolific weed, most parts of which are poisonous (roots, seeds, mature stems and leaves). But the YOUNG stalks and leaves are delicious, and perfectly safe when properly prepared. Pokeweed should ALWAYS be cooked before eating. In fact, it requires boiling in several changes of water. I suggest two boils, then a final cooking in a soup, sauté, or egg dish.

Online research turns up lots of recipes for using the leaves like spinach and the stalks like asparagus. They call for cheese, bacon, and other flavor enhancers, but I suggest starting with a plainer approach. Get to know the taste of the vegetable before you mask its flavor. A simple pokeweed custard is pictured below.

When picking poke, make sure you harvest away from busy roads in an area that hasn't been sprayed by pesticides. That shouldn't be difficult, considering how widespread the weed is.

Are you feeling adventurous? Grab your pruners and a harvest bag and pick yourself a passel of poke!

1 comment:

Sara said...

Poke! (I knew if I waited, a bird would bring some to my garden - and it happened.)

There was a very geometric little boxwood planting near here, with a giant pokeweed berrying its heart out in the middle. My guess is that it grew so fast, someone thought it must have been planted there on purpose. I wish I'd taken a picture - one of the funniest (and most dramatic) plant combos I've ever seen.

PFAF says you can use poke berries for food coloring (!?). No thanks! But thank *you* for the 2-boils tip...

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