Q: I remember an old song called “Poke Salad Annie.” Recently I picked up a book on poisonous plants, and discovered that pokeweed is considered toxic. Now I’m curious why there’s a song about someone eating something toxic. I don’t remember that Annie died in the song.
Answer: You’re right, she didn’t, but I had to go look up the lyrics! Pokeweed, or polk in the song, is a common weed. All parts of the plant are toxic, from the roots on up. Most often poisoning occurs in animals that eat the leaves and stems. But people do eat it, too, and survive.
In the spring, the very small tender shoots of leaves are not toxic, so these can be picked for eating. Also, boiling the leaves and draining off the water removes the great majority of the toxins. Then the leaves can be eaten like cooked spinach. I don’t remember it tasting as good as spinach, though, from my childhood experience of picking and eating pokeweed.
The other hazard is the bright purple berries. They can be squashed and used to dye cloth. They do a great job staining fingers. And they are attractive to small children. If children eat them, they’ll need medical attention for the diarrhea and possible intestinal damage.
A reminder to my readers regarding the upcoming big Thanksgiving meal:
If you plan to buy a fresh turkey, don’t purchase it until Tuesday at the earliest. Fresh poultry should not be kept for more than two days before cooking. Do NOT buy a pre-stuffed fresh turkey! You have no way of knowing if it has been handled correctly at all times. It could be dangerous by now.
If you’re buying or have bought a frozen turkey, the safest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator. But that takes time. A 12-pound bird will need three days to thaw; a 20- pounder will take five days. Plan your refrigerator space accordingly!
If you’re close to roasting time and the turkey is still frozen, you can put it under cold running water to speed up the thawing. The 12-pound bird will need up to six hours of running water to thaw, the 20-pound bird will need up to 10 hours.
If you want dressing, you can chop the dry ingredients in advance, but don’t add the egg, milk, broth or other liquid until you are ready to cook it. If you put the stuffing inside the bird, form it into tennis-sized balls and put them in loosely. If it’s packed too tightly, it won’t cook fast enough in the middle to be safe.
As for roasting, an unstuffed whole turkey that is 8 to 12 pounds will need 1½ to 3¼ hours in a 325-degree oven. An 18- to 20-pound bird will need 4¼ to 4½ hrs. If you stuff it, add 15 to 30 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to be sure; 165 degrees is what you need for safety.
Finally, get the leftovers refrigerated quickly! The longer they’re out, the riskier they become. Have a great and happy Thanksgiving!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.