©Bert Gildart: Some of you who are hard-core country and western music buffs may remember a song about a plant that grows down South called Poke salad. The plant was made popular by Tony Joe White who created a ballad about the species. White sang the song on the Johnny Cash show, which ran during the early 1970s.
Recently, a DVD was released popularizing the show and Janie bought me the album for Christmas this past year. One of the episodes featured Tony Joe White, and though we’ve been playing it often while traveling in our Airstream along the Natchez Trace it seemed particularly appropriate to play it when we settled for several nights at the farm owned by my college roommate, Ed Anderson, featured in a blog posted April 17. Ed and family live just off the Trace.
During our stay, we discussed the Johnny Cash show, and then we honed in on some of the songs we could relate to specifically. One of them was Poke Salad Annie.
“It’s true,” said Ed. “Poke weed grows in the woods and in the fields. It grows here on my farm, too.”
From that we decided to make an evening out of Southern foods–and because Ed and his family are always poking fun about the ways some folks view their country ways, we decided to do it up right, gathering as much from the woods and fields as we could.
“We’ll make this an evening of real Southern cooking,” laughed Ed, Sarah and his two children, Anna and Roger.
Well, that sure pleased me, as some of my fondest memories are of Ed and me hunting years ago on his father’s old farm–scurrying behind a pack of beagle hounds; then chowing down on some of the foods fresh from the farm. It also pleased Janie, who believes the Andersons are one of the nicest and most genuine families she’s ever met.
We began by looking for poke weed. Ed said it was early for an extensive crop, but still we found enough. “Got to boil it first,” said Ed, “to remove the toxins. But then, it makes a delicious salad. Poke Salad!”
Next we gathered sweet potatoes from his stash, some paw-paws for bread, and black eyed peas. I chopped up the sweet potatoes, and then like the days when we boarded at Pope’s Tavern, I added brown sugar and then cooked them up. About all that was missing was a glass of butter milk and a little corn bread to stir into the milk.
Ed, Roger and I prepared the meal, trying to give the lady’s a break–but we all had a wonderful time, joking about perceptions, concluding with lots of self adulations regarding our abilities. “Makes the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) look second rate, particularly the preparation of our Poke Salad.”
“Ain’t that a fact!”
SONG FROM TONY JOE WHITE
And, now, if you want to know what you’re missing, here’s the refrain and first part of Tony Joe White’s hit song.
If some of ya’ll never been down South too much…
I’m gonna tell you a little bit about this,
So that you’ll understand what I’m talking about
Down there we have a plant
That grows out in the woods and the fields,
Looks somethin’ like a turnip green.
Everybody calls it Poke salad. Poke salad.
Used to know a girl that lived down there and
she’d go out in the evenings and pick a mess of it…
Carry it home and cook it for supper,
‘Cause that’s about all they had to eat,
But they did all right.
Down in Louisiana
Where the alligators grow so mean
There lived a girl that I swear to the world
Made the alligators look tame…
The song first sung by White and later by Elvis Presley, continues, and you can hear the entire version if you order the Johnny Cash show from Amazon.
In the meantime, enjoy our food photos and if you want to try some of these delicious menus, our secret receipts are available. But they ain’t cheap.