Everybody said it was a shame

It’s a traditional, albeit hazardous, food of southern Appalachia:

The leaves and stems of very young plants can both be eaten, but must be cooked, usually boiled three times in fresh water each time. The leaves have a taste similar to spinach; the stems taste similar to asparagus. To prepare stems, harvest young stalks prior to chambered pith formation, carefully peel the purple skin away, then chop the stalk up and fry in meal like okra. Traditionally, poke leaves are boiled, drained, boiled again, then fatback is added and cooked some more to add flavor. Poisonings occur from failure to drain the water from the leaves at least once. Preferably they should be boiled, drained, and water replaced two or more times.

Still, you’re not eating this stuff unless that’s all you can get. Tony Joe White told us so:

Recorded in 1968, “Polk Salad Annie” took the better part of a year to catch on: it topped out at #8 in 1969. Singers began combing through White’s catalogue for possible covers, and arguably Brook Benton had the greatest success:

And I’m not quite sure which is weirder: the fact that White wrote a song called “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies,” or that he got Waylon Jennings to sing with him on it.

And Tony Joe White hung in there until the age of seventy-five. I’m guessing that a childhood diet of pokeweed was not at all a factor.


  1. fillyjonk »

    27 October 2018 · 8:12 am

    Not just southern Appalachia; a former colleague of mine talked about making poke greens (she cooked it like spinach, but noted you must change the water several times for it to be safe).

    The stuff grows wild around here – I cut it out of my back garden regularly. I admit I’ve looked at it and contemplated it, but given my weird allergies, it would be my luck that pokeweed would be the thing that triggered anaphylaxis….also I’m not so sure about “it can kill you unless you prepare it just right,” am not that much of a risktaker.

  2. Brett »

    27 October 2018 · 10:57 am

    Legend was that when he auditioned in Nashville, the producer took one look at him and said, “Boy, if you can sing one note I can make you famous,” or something like that.

  3. October rambling: Threat of Tribalism | Ramblin' with Roger »

    31 October 2018 · 8:26 am

    […] ‘Swamp Rock’ Master Tony Joe White Has Died At 75; Polk Salad Annie […]

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