CHEROKEE EATS: Poke

BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
05/20/2019 08:45 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
In its natural state, poke can be recognized by its wide green leaves and thick stalks. Many Cherokees traditionally gather poke each spring. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Tad Dunham demonstrates how to gather poke by only picking the leaves off the stalk. Though a poisonous plant, the poke leaves are edible when cooked correctly. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Poke, which is classified as a nightshade weed, grows among the previous year’s stalks. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Poke leaves are boiled whole up to two or three times to rid them of toxins to make them edible. LINDSEY BARK
Main Cherokee Phoenix
When fully cooked, poke can resemble spinach but has a more distinct smell and taste. Whole leaves shrink and change color when done. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Food type: Poke, also known as polk, poke salad, poke sallet or pokeweed

Classification: “Poke is actually classified as a weed and its in the nightshade family, which is the same family as tomatoes and potatoes. Most nightshades are poisonous,” Cherokee Nation citizen Tad Dunham said.

Be careful: Dunham said poke is poisonous, but most people who cook it know that and that people should even wear gloves when gathering or handling it, but hardly anyone does. His wife Linda said poke leaves are safe to eat, but the roots are more poisonous. Dunham said when the stalks start turning red they also become more poisonous.

Where to find: Dunham said he looks for stalks from the previous year’s growth. They are tall and a light brownish color, almost like small dead trees. He said birds scatter poke seeds, and it can grow where the ground looks “disturbed.”

When to pick: Poke begin growing from late April to early May. The best time to gather poke is when the stalk are about one to 2 feet in height. “It’s better to pick them when they’re about a foot to 2 feet tall. Once it starts getting bigger than that the stalks get bigger around and they get more red, they get tough and it gets a stronger taste,” Dunham said.

How to cook: Dunham said cook only the leaves and cook them whole. He boils them for 15 minutes, rinses them out, boils them another seven to eight minutes and rinses again. He said this removes any toxins from the leaves. Leaves vary in size but shrink or shrivel when cooked. “It’s real similar to spinach, but it’s a little but stronger than spinach. It had a little different taste,” he said. Dunham cooks poke in bacon grease after boiling. Some people add eggs after boiling.

Why Cherokees love poke: “It’s kind of like the wild onions and the mushroom, it’s been a tradition. And it’s a good way for people to get greens that they don’t usually get. When I was a kid, my parents couldn’t afford to go to the store, so we ate out of the fields and the yard,” Dunham said.
About the Author
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing ...
lindsey-bark@cherokee.org • 918-772-4223
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing ...

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