This week’s guide is a tribute to the courageous peoples and rich cultures of our ravaged gulf coast. Joining the many cooks and writers who have devoted their spaces in recent weeks to the cuisines of Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, I will be looking at a vegetable from Mississippi and environs. Like so many stories about the delta region, this one begins with Elvis.
My Elvis story
Around the time I got divorced I was up late a lot of nights and I watched some very unusual things on television. One such night I saw a very old talk show--I can't remember which--on which Elvis was a guest. He was talking about a vegetable that grew wild where he came from called "pork salad." He said that pork salad wasn't all that good, but folks were poor, and it grew wild all over the place, so everyone was cooking and eating it. One girl, however, was such a wonderful cook that she could make anything taste delicious, even pork salad, and in fact, he had written a song about this very girl, called "Pork Salad Annie." Then Elvis played the song, which I enjoyed very much.
Well, I hardly need to add I was up the rest of the night searching through all my (then very limited) cookbooks and reference books for pork salad to no avail. There was nothing in Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking, nothing even in Waverly Root's huge encyclopedia. It was the mid-eighties.
The years rolled by and every time I came across a new culinary or botanical text I looked for pork salad. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t finding it anywhere. How could such an important vegetable go undocumented?
The eureka moment came a few years later. I came across a description of a vegetable called POKE, or polk, or pokeweed, or poke salad, or (my favorite) poke salet, that was obviously what I was looking for. Elvis had called it poke salad, but I had heard pork salad. I had hyper-corrected the King's English!
The Yiddish word for poke salad is alkermes fitolàc
For very helpful information on poke salad and some wonderful pictures, have a look at Wayne’s Word.
And here are Tony Joe White’s original words to Poke Salad Annie. Here are the words for Elvis’s version. I must have misremembered the interview where I thought I understood Elvis to be the author.
This week I made this beautiful green soup. I disclose reluctantly that I used chard rather than poke.
The Chocolate Lady’s Pokey-Leeky Soup
5 smallish zucchini
½ pound poke leaves (substitute chard, spinach, or watercress)
6 large leeks
about six sprigs parsley (a little less than ¼ cup, minced)
small bunch dill (about ½ cup, minced)
salt and Louisiana Tabasco sauce, to taste
Shred or slice the zucchini, salt lightly and allow to rest in a strainer or colander as you prepare the other vegetables. Carefully wash the greens and leeks. Cook the greens in boiling water. If using Poke, discard the cooking water. Chop the leaves. Slice the white and light green parts of the leeks. Heat the olive oil soup pot and add the leeks. Cook the leeks over low heat for about ten minutes. Add the zucchini and cook a few minutes more, add the greens and continue cooking a little longer. Now add four or five cups of the vegetable-cooking water or fresh water if you are using poke. Salt and simmer for 20 minutes or until everything is very tender. Puree the soup in batches. Add minced herbs and milk or other liquid to thin as needed. Test for seasonings.
Kashres and The King
In the 1966 film Spinout, Presley plays a singer who is also a racecar driver; he travels around with his band, which is also his pit crew. Late in the movie, the gang needs for some reason I can’t recall to persuade our hero that his car is not working. The king senses that things have gone a bit pear-shaped, but can’t figure out how. Furrowing his brow at the sabotaged engine, he mutters “Something here isn’t kosher.”
Bonus Poke Salad Trivia
Supporters of candidate James Knox Polk wore sprigs of poke salad in their buttonholes to express their allegiance.
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"The Chocolate Lady’s Shabes Ki Seytse Survival Guide" is protected by copyright, and is provided at no cost, for your personal use only. You may share it with folks if you like, but only in its entirety including this notice. Any other form of republication, unless with prior written permission of the author, is strictly prohibited. Copyright © 2005 by Eve Jochnowitz.
Claiborne, Craig. Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking. 1st ed. New York: Times Books, 1987.
Root, Waverley Lewis. Food, an Authoritative and Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.
Schaechter, Mordkhe. Di Geviksn Velt in Yidish (Plant Names in Yiddish). New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 2005.
Questions? Comments? ASK THE CHOCOLATE LADY!
Labels: Cooking for Karina (non-allergenic), perfect for peysekh פּסחדיק װי די װעלט, peysekhdik פּסחדיק