Last week David and I were introduced to Poke Salat or Pokeweed when several bags of it appeared on the “share table” at the Senior Center. At this time of the year, people bring excess produce from their gardens to share with friends. The first time I remember hearing about Poke Salat was when Elvis sang “Poke Salat Annie,” but the first time I saw it was last week.
The conversation that day was how to cook the “poisonous” weed to make it edible. I heard one lady say her mother boiled it seven times and poured off the water before she considered it safe. Everyone agreed that it was a tasty treat, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth the risk, so I Googled it. I found that, while the purple berries and roots are toxic, if the leaves are young and don’t have any tinges of purple, they are not toxic. I found a recipe that said to parboil once, pour off the water, and then finish by either boiling or frying. That sounded easy enough, so I took a small bagful home.
The thing about greens is that a small bagful cooks down to a very small serving, so I added
some mustard greens from my garden. I washed, chopped, boiled, and drained. Then, I finished the process by boiling them in a little chicken broth with a liberal mixture of spices thrown in. David judged the results to be quite tasty, and neither of us suffered any ill effects.
This week, more greens appeared on the share table. There was a large box of turnip greens and another of tender greens–and there was a huge bag of poke salat. I didn’t hesitate to get a larger bag of the poke, and at the encouragement of the gentleman who brought them, I added a generous portion of the tender greens. There was even more enthusiastic sharing of recipes than last week, and the consensus was that the best way to serve poke, after the requisite parboiling, was to fry it in some bacon grease and then scramble it with some eggs. That sounds an awful lot like spinach quiche which I love, so poke and eggs is on the menu for this weekend.
The comparison between the quiche and its country cousin reminded me of other similarities I’ve noticed between the Julia Childs and the Granny Hagan version of some of my favorite foods. I thought Quiche Lorraine sounded really exotic until I discovered it was bacon and eggs fancied up a bit. It took me a while to realize that sautéing was simply frying in a little oil at a low temperature, and that most sauces are fancy names for gravy. A roux is simply flour and oil, the base for every good Southern gravy, and espagnole sauce is brown gravy while béchamel sauce is white gravy. I guess if you say it in French, you can charge more, but a croque monsieur is still a fried ham and cheese sandwich.
Regardless of what you call it, though, people love food. We celebrate the joys of life with cake and other goodies, we gather as families and friends over shared meals, and we console one another with casseroles and covered dishes. Whether it’s haute cuisine or country cooking, food draws us together like few other things do.