Having eaten feta / spinach balls for breakfast I had already had my daily dose of greens, but when I looked out my studio window and saw the first pokeweed of the year growing at the edge of the woods I couldn’t stop myself from going out and gathering them up.
Eating poke salat as a spring tonic is a tradition still carried on by a few here in the Southern U.S., a rite of spring if you will. Before the age of modern transportation, there tended to be a dearth of available green nutrition in winter, and consuming pokeweed in the spring gave a much needed nutritional boost.
(I will here insert a cautionary statement: Before consuming pokeweed it is important to know that the entire plant, some parts more than others, contains considerable amounts of toxins, and specific methods of preparation must be followed to make it safely edible. I will explain the procedure later).
Anticipating gathering a mess of poke salat, I took a plastic shopping bag outside with me and began picking. How much is a mess? In Southern speak it is a lot, or at least enough to serve your purposes, and it takes a lot of poke leaves to make a moderate amount of greens. A grocery store size plastic bag packed full of leaves yields enough cooked green for two or three meals for two people, or about five or six servings. This early in the season I was only able to gather a few leaves, but I cooked them up anyway. The amount of leaves in this three quart pot cooked down to barely a serving of greens.
To eliminate the toxins in poke leaves and render them safe to eat it is essential to cook them in three changes of water. First of all it is important to only use young new growth leaves; the older the leaves the more toxins they contain. This is the way I prepare them:
- After rinsing the leaves I put them in an appropriate size pot and fill it with cold water.
- It is then brought to a vigorous boil for a few minutes.
- The water is then poured off and the pot refilled with cold water.
- It is again brought to a vigorous boil which is maintained for a few minutes.
- The water is poured off again and the pot refilled with cold water.
- On the third boil I add salt and discard the water after boiling for a few minutes.
- If the leaves are older I sometimes do a fourth boil.
By this time the leaves are cooked very tender and are ready to eat. As you can see, the greens cook down to a very small amount, which is why you need to pick a whole mess of poke salat!
So, why go to all this trouble? Many reasons! First of all, the greens are DELICIOUS! They are packed with nutrients. They are free for the picking. It really isn’t that much trouble at all and doesn’t take very much time. I can go outside after daybreak, pick a mess of poke salat, have them properly cooked and still have to wait another hour for the other half to wake up so I can start preparing a poke salat omelet. That may happen tomorrow morning!