Dogwood winter bites into poke sallet

Associated Press • May 9, 2007 at 10:06 AM

GAINESBORO, Tenn. - They can never get enough poke sallet in Gainesboro, where the poor man's roughage is honored with an annual festival.

That's particularly true this year. A late freeze last month damaged fruit crops and young vegetation throughout Tennessee, including the wild green also called pokeweed.

"You can hardly find it anywhere," said Patrick Martin, volunteer organizer of the town's annual Poke Sallet Festival, which begins Thursday.

In years past, the event has drawn up to 15,000 visitors for three days of craft displays, carnival rides, music, outhouse races, turtle races, the crowning of Miss Poke Sallet and generous portions of the long-boiled vegetable itself.

"I'm not sure we're going to have enough to cook for our poke sallet eating contest," said Martin, a juvenile probation officer. "I've got people looking for it. They're just not finding much."

But poke or no poke, the town's 31st annual festival will go on.

Gainesboro is about 80 miles east of Nashville.

Best served with eggs or white beans and bacon, this wild delicacy rooted with a hardscrabble heritage is properly known as "sallett" - an old English term for "cooked greens." But some regions spell it "salet" or "salit." In Louisiana, it's known as "salad," giving rise to Tony Joe White's 1969 hit "Polk Salad Annie" with the catchy line, "the gators got your granny." "You can't beat it. They come out of the woodwork to eat it," said Harse Pryor, a regular at Gainesboro's City Cafe, where a plate of poke sallett and eggs costs $1.25. "I hope they'll have enough."

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