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Kentucky's love affair with Salad

Updated on June 6, 2009

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 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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