Kentucky's love affair with Salad

Poke weed, used in salads in Appalachia

The Kentucky tradition of salads goes back to Elizabethan, England. In The English Hous-wife (1615), the author alludes to "...the young buds and knots of all mannerof wholesome herbs at their first springing...as mint, lettuce, violets and marigolds, spinach, and many others mixed together served up to the table with vinegar, sallet oyle and sugar." He suggests also that the cook boil the greens, such as spinach until they are "...exceedingly soft and tender as pap" and then seasoned with currants or small pieces of toast and vinegar sweetened with a little sugar.

Poke is an indigenous mountain green dating back to the days of the indians. They and the early settlers relied on Poke and Sassafras tea to hone up the body in the spring, after a long winter. Health depended on the herbs from the land, rather than on pharmaceutical houses. In addition to its medicinal properties, Poke was a valuable sourse of food for the pioneers. It is a very common Appalachian dish and is often served with eggs. It required no cultivation and the mountain men and boys were free to hunt and fish, while the women and children gathered a natutral Poke crop.

After gathering the Poke, the dead grass and dry leaves were removed and the women began cooking in the kitchen.They filled a large pan with enough water to boil the Poke they had gathered. They would then lower it into the water and boil it for about three minutes. Today with the invention of refrigeration, the cooked greens are refrigerated, frozen or used. Some cooks serve them with salt, pepper and bacon bits. Others simmer them with salt pork and onions or fry them in bacon grease.

Harlan, Kentucky is home to the annual Poke Sallet festival. It offers Bluegrass music, a choo choo train, and a homecoming pageant. During the four day event, various groups sell Poke Sallet. The last festival advertised as follows

Think you make the best poke sallet in Harlan County? Want to pit yourself against Kentucky's finest poke sallet cooks? Want to know what poke sallet is? Then attend the Poke Sallet Festival in Harlan, Kentucky. The festival begins Thursday, June 5, 2009 and continues through Sunday June 8, 2009. The poke sallet cooking contestis June 7. What happens at the Poke Sallet Festival besides cooking poke sallet? Plenty!

  • There'll be a cornhole toss
  • a poke sallet jail where you can have your boss arrested and put in jail for 15 minutes
  • mountain storytelling
  • the Miss Harlan County Homecoming Pageant
  • lots of gospel and Christian music
  • a home run derby, car and bike shows


At the festivals and in the home today cooked canned Poke is used

Bibb Lettuce

Another Kentucky favorite is Bibb lettuce. John B. Bibb was born in Prince Edward County, Virginai in 17 89. He soon moved with his family to Russelville, Kentucky. Later, in 1845, he moved to Frankfort and built Gray Gables, which still stands at the corner of Wapping Street and Watson Court.

He wasn't interested in the social life of the city or in a career in public life. Instead he embarked on adventures in his lovely garden that rolled down to the Kentucky River. There, he evolved the salad head that bears his name. In his eighties, he began givinf lettuce plants to friends and neighbors. Otherwise this wonderful lettuce might have been lost forever. Bibb lettuce is now available throughout the world.

Recipe: Wilted Bibb Lettuce Salad

6 slices of bacon
1/4 cup of vinegar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
1/4 lb. of Bibb lettuce

Warm a large bowl by filling it with very hot water.
Fry bacon, remove from pan and set aside to crisp.
Break bacon into small bits.
Pour water out of bowl and dry it.
Put cut lettuce into the bowl
Add salt, sugar and pepper to hot bacon grease
and pour over lettuce immediately.
Cover bowl and let lettuce wilt for 5 minutes.
Uncover and sprinkle with vinegar and bacon bits.

Bibb Lettuce

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Comments 11 comments

Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

Informative Hub - a nice snapshot of Kentucky culture/history. Having lived in Massachusetts my whole life, pretty much everything you mentioned seemed a little "foreign" to me (although our grocery stores do carry Bibb lettuce). It occurs to me people should write more Hubs about some of the "specifics" to the regional culture/history in different parts of the US. Although I know Massachusetts has its "food culture" (to some limited extent), I think most of its history/culture involves surviving snowy Winters. (At least that's how it feels to me. :) )


k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California

I had never heard of Poke before. How interesting. Something new to add to my salads if I can find it. The Bibb salad recipe looks wonderful. I am hungry now and am going to get some lunch! :D


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Lisa: I plan on writing more about the foods and culinary heritage of Kentucky. Just finished writing, editing and publishing a Kentucky coffee table cookbook for the Bed and Breakfast Assoc. of KY: "Room at the table" (McClanahan,2008) available at Amazon with interesting info on Ky and its B&Bs.  I worked with a committee. We had a professional photographer, but we tested all the recipes and did all the styling for the photographer...traveled all over Ky to various Inns.

Kari: Poke is poisonous, if it's not cooked. I would suggest you try the Bibb. It's delicious; melts in your mouth like butter

 


chicamom85 profile image

chicamom85 7 years ago

I love the white bibb lettuce salad, it reminds me of a spinach salad dressing that I make. Sounds good.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for comment. Bibb is my favorite lettuce too.


ralwus 6 years ago

I am so glad someone wrote about Poke Salad. Sadly it is not allowed in my diet anymore. I can't get anyone around these parts to even try it. LOL Only the local blacks know of its value and grow it in their front yards as well as a few families from West Virginia. They also use the ubiquitous dandelion as well. Thanks, and I never knew about Mr. Bibb, thanks.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Well, Charlie I think it's probably a good thing you aren't allowed to eat Poke anymore. I read somewhere that it's supposed to be poison. Now that may be just when it's raw. I don't remember.


Bob Frederick 6 years ago

Well the way i cook Poke Salad,

First,You Wash the Poke then you cut it up Poke Stalks and leaves.Put it in a good size bowl sprinkle corn meal and a little Flour salt and pepper it good.Mix it up good in the bowl,Then i have a hot Iron skellet with oil and put all the poke in the skellet it will cook down and fry it tell it gets good and krisp put a lid on it till it cooks down.Poke Salad is not posion it's an old wifes tell that you have got too boil it first you waste the good part.Just try it like i do and you will enjoy it i am sure also you have got to have some pinto beans with it too.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Sounds like a great idea, Bob. Glad to hear you're enjoying your Poke....and even more glad to find out it's not poison.

Thanks for commenting.


gward63@yahoo.com 3 years ago

who is serving Poke Sat.....................


TimArends profile image

TimArends 22 months ago from Chicago Region

Sounds tasty! Who would have thought a weed could be put to such good use!

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