Oh those wily exotic southerners.
Recently, while visiting me in Brooklyn, my mom’s eyes went twinkly as she noticed all the wild pokeweed growing around the neighborhood. A woolgathering reminiscence of her childhood in Texas spilled forth: cooking and eating the onion-infused greens straight from the pan; her stoic anticipation as her mother added vinegar to the last dregs of poke-broth, knocking it back like a shot of whiskey.
She was surprised to find that my New England–bred boyfriend had never heard of the poisonous, towering perennial weed, with its oblong leaves and magenta berries and stalks. Despite the fact that the kudzu-like Phytolacca americana sprouts up all across North America, poke sallet, a dish made from the plant’s slightly-less-toxic leaves, is a regional thing, popular only to Appalachia and the American South. The leaves must be boiled in water three times to cook out their toxins, and, as aficionados will tell you, it’s well worth the extra effort.
Been in NC 23 years. I’ve never once been served pokeweed. I’ve never seen pokeweed on a menu. I’ve never heard of anyone’s NC-native granny making pokeweed. I have mowed down many pokeweed plants, though.